Steps to Editing a Narrative

No matter how effortless good writing might seem, all authors need to revise their work. Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century, was so committed to the editing process that he wrote 47 endings to his novel "A Farewell to Arms." While your narrative may not require that extent of revision, you'll still need to revise your draft to ensure that it's detailed, complete and correct.

Take a Break, Then Break It Up

Revision doesn't start the second you finish the last sentence of your essay or story. Ali Hale, a columnist for the website Daily Writing Tips, states that the process will be more effective if you set your draft aside and get some distance. The amount of time you leave it alone depends on the genre. For example, you can often return to an narrative essay sooner than to a short story or novel because fiction has a multitude of plot and character possibilities that you'll continue to process after you finish the draft. Once you've taken a break, come back to it and get ready to revise.

Develop Your Draft

Once you've gotten some distance from your narrative, read it to look for places where the story needs greater plot or character development. In personal essays, writers tend to omit crucial details from the story because their own experiences are so familiar to them. Make sure you've included all the information that readers need to understand why the events you detail are important to you. For fiction, study your plot and characters as you read your draft, looking for ways to strengthen the story's conflict, heighten the stakes for your characters and expand on their most defining traits.

Details, Details, Details

Whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, the "show, don't tell" axiom is one of the most important rules you can follow. Good narratives are about creating a world for your readers, whether it's your grandmother's house from a favorite holiday memory or a science fiction universe. Look for places where you could increase your use of imagery, description that evokes the senses. Make your readers hear the crackle emanating from the fireplace as your family opened Christmas presents or feel the dry ground of an alien planet infected with drought. Use detail to put readers right in the middle of the story.

Look Between the Lines

As soon as their first draft is done, too many writers skip editing their narrative's content and go straight to correcting spelling and punctuation. They then end up with pieces that are grammatically immaculate, but that contain underdeveloped ideas. Once all the pieces of your narrative are in place, look for misused or misspelled words, typos, misplaced punctuation and any sentences that are incomplete, confusing or poorly worded. Try reading your narrative out loud to yourself to see how it sounds, as reading it silently can cause you to gloss over mistakes.

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