For short pieces, less than a thousand words, reading the whole story over and over again for editing usually works fine—it’s short enough that this isn’t a waste of time. For longer works, however, re-reading the entire piece over and over is inefficient, so you may find this approach helpful for editing your first draft.
As you do each of these steps, keep notes! You will need them later. One great way to keep notes is to use spreadsheets that keep track of your scenes, characters, and character relationships. You may also have your outline as bullet points in a regular text document, or even as a character map, plot structure diagram, or other illustration. Using an outline can help you keep your notes organized as you go through this process, which is “re-outlining”.
Character problems should be examined first. Stories hinge on good characters, and the plot may need to change significantly if you make changes to characters.
Once you have figured out the characters, set your notes aside (and save the editing for Step 6), or if you want, drop into the story and make the changes you need to make now. Resist the urge to do a full edit front to back! Only edit what needs to be edited.
Once you have your characters fleshed out, you need to look at the conflict between them and any other forces in the story.
Here again, set your conflict notes aside, or step into the conflicts and make the fixes now.
The scenes are the meat of your story, where things happen. You should have a list of scenes, ideally in a spreadsheet for easy organization.
Here again, set your scene notes aside, or step into the scenes and make the fixes now.
Characters need to have strong, believable motivations. If they don’t, readers will struggle to identify with them.
Here again, set your motivations notes aside, or step into the motivations and make the fixes now.
The first page is important because it should hook the reader and draw them in, making them want to know more and read on.
The last page is important because the ending should leave the reader feeling satisfied—if it doesn’t, they’re not going to recommend your story. “Satisfied” is not necessarily a happy ending, or a perfect wrap-up ending—it depends on what kind of story you are writing.
Now that you’ve looked at everything, you should be ready to make your tweaks to the first and last pages. Don’t do too much, and resist the urge to continue editing past these pages. You will re-edit the full story later.
You likely made a lot of notes while you were writing your first draft. You likely have a basic outline of the scenes and a character sheet as well. You also may have notes from steps 1-5 above that you haven’t put into the story yet.
Read over your notes, and make an necessary tweaks to either the story, or the notes, given what you’ve discovered and edited so far in the above steps. This will help you solidify your plot and characters before you embark on a full reading of your story.
Step 6 is the shortest to describe, but depending on how much editing you have to do, it may be a lot of work, weeks or months of it even. Hang in there! The world needs your novel!
Your goal here, assuming you are confident that you have addressed and resolved any issues in the previous steps, is to read your story like an editor, with a cold, logical, critical eye.
Go back to step one and do it again. With each pass, you’ll improve the story, and have less work to do (the first is usually the hardest) and eventually get to a point when you don’t know what else to do. At this point, you’re ready to get feedback on your story from others.
What is the Snowflake Method? It’s a way to outline your novel, starting with a single sentence, and then building that into a paragraph, then several paragraphs, then pages, and then a full story.*
The Snowflake Method was popularized by Randy Ingermanson and you can read more about it on his website. He also publishes software that lets you do a much deeper dive into the method than this simple spreadsheet.
Here is the link to the Google Spreadsheet:
If you want to walk through the entire Snowflake Method, then you can start at the first tab and work your way to the right. If you like to keep track of your scenes and characters in a spreadsheet, you may want to copy only those two sheets out of this file, as they are the most useful once you get your basic plot outlined.
Once you open the spreadsheet, you can go to “File” -> “Make a copy” to save a copy to your own Google Drive.
* Really, it should be called the snowball method, as that is a much more accessible metaphor than something about fractals.
Here are some useful Add-ons that you can use within Google Docs™.
To install an Add-on, go to the Add-ons menu and click “Get Add-ons”.
This useful plugin allows you to highlight words from a word list in a Google Spreadsheet™. You can highlight from a word list, highlight a selection, highlight continuously as you type, and highlight sentences by length. It also has functions to clear highlights from the entire doc or a selection. It also includes a stats viewer for word count, word frequency, lists of all the sentences, and readability statistics. The help file is here.
While you can get some synonyms from Google’s thesaurus by selecting a word, right-clicking it, and choosing “Define”, it’s not comprehensive.
OneLook Thesaurus provides standard synonyms, rhymes, and frequently used words that often appear near the word you are looking up.
This plugin generates a word cloud from your source material. This can be very useful to understand the frequency of occurrence of the words in your document, or just to share word clouds with friends. The word clouds are generated as transparent-background .png files, you can can copy-and-paste them into any website or social app.
This simple tool allows you to get a word and character count, but exclude certain sections of the document, such as headers or titles.
First written as a demo app by Google to highlight the extensibility of Google Docs™, this app has useful tools for quick and easy translations.
For some reason that has been lost to time, screenplays are still put in an archaic manuscript format, despite the fact that no one has written a screenplay on a typewriter in twenty years. However, if you are writing a screenplay, you must play by the rules. This add-on will help you do that.