Of the fifty editing tips I’ve shared on this blog this year, these are the top five I recommend you apply to your novel right away.
2023 has been a really great year, at least as far as the Your Next Draft podcast goes. This episode is the fifty-first episode I’ve published this year.
Which means that since January, I’ve shared fifty tips for writers, fifty strategies to edit your novel, fifty actionable steps you can put to use in your novel editing process right away.
That’s a lot! Especially considering this has been my first full year running a podcast.
In fact, if right now, you scrolled back in your podcast player and started with the first episode in January of 2023, you’d listen for over 21 hours before you’d catch up to today.
And when I discover a podcast that’s really helpful to me, I do that. There’s something exciting about starting at the beginning of a great podcast and knowing that you’ve got tons of content to dig into that will keep you busy for hours or days on end.
So if you’re new to the podcast, and you like to listen to podcasts from start to finish, I like to think you’re in for a treat.
But it’s also helpful to know where the highlights are—the don’t-miss episodes that you definitely want to catch, even if they’re buried deep in an enormous podcast catalog.
So in this article, I want to take a look back: to revisit the best episodes of Your Next Draft from 2023.
5 Highlights From a Year of Editing Advice
If you’re new, this is a great place to start and hear some of my favorite highlights and most helpful tips.
And if you’re not new to the podcast, I think you’ll enjoy this, too. By now, you know that one of my favorite tools on the podcast is repetition: I think there’s huge value in revisiting ideas you’ve heard once or twice before so that you can integrate them into your understanding of story even more clearly.
In many of my episodes, you’ve heard me reference or even recap past episodes, and that’s because I want to make sure you don’t miss some foundational story concepts.
Plus, it’s probably been a few months since you’ve heard the tips I’m going to share in this episode. And if you’ve spent that time writing or editing a manuscript, I believe you’ll be coming to these tips with new context, so you can get fresh insight and ideas for your writing.
So whether you’re new to the pod or have been listening since the beginning, stick around for the best tips from Your Next Draft in 2023.
The “Best” Tips, According to . . . Me
What do I mean by “best”?
Well, one of the episodes I’m going to share is the #1 most-downloaded episode of the whole podcast, so by all the metrics I can see, it’s the most popular episode.
For the rest, I’ll admit to some bias. And by some bias, I mean they are an entirely biased selection of my favorite episodes—four episodes with some of the top tips I believe will most help you elevate your manuscript and your editing practice.
It was really difficult to narrow this list down. But I challenged myself to keep it short, because one of the things I’ve heard from many of you is that you really love that episodes of Your Next Draft are short and to the point. So I’ve kept it to just five top episodes . . . with maybe a few bonus favorites thrown in along the way.
The Top 5 Editing Tips From 2023
Speaking of staying short and to the point, that’s enough preamble—let’s dive in.
Tip #1: Edit your novel based on scenes, not chapters.
Here’s our first tip:
Edit your novel based on scenes, not chapters.
This tip comes from episode 8: What Is a Scene? The Ultimate Guide to Write and Edit Amazing Scenes.
Here’s the clip:
Great stories are made up of great scenes.
But I get so many questions from writers, especially when they’re new to writing or new to sharing their writing with others to get feedback, about what scenes actually are.
The thing is, when you’re a consumer of stories—when you’re a reader reading books, or a moviegoer watching movies—you’re not thinking in terms of scenes. You’re just enjoying the story, which flows from one event to the next to the next.
When readers do break books into smaller units, they’re usually thinking in terms of chapters. Those are clearly marked, with page breaks and numbers and occasionally titles. When we read books, we’re telling ourselves “just one more chapter, and then I’ll turn the light out and go to bed.”
And I’m assuming that before you started writing books, you began by reading books. Which means you were introduced to stories in terms of chapters, not scenes.
People consuming stories don’t think in terms of scenes.
But people who create stories do.
Scenes are the building blocks of stories. A scene is one unit of story that contains one story event. And that means that in order to write a great story, you need to write great scenes.
So that’s the first tip from 2023, and it also happens to be the most popular episode of Your Next Draft to date. It’s definitely a don’t-miss episode.
Tip #2: Have courage to change absolutely anything in your novel.
Now for our second tip from 2023:
Have courage to change absolutely anything in your novel.
This tip comes from episode 23: 3 Simple Steps to Edit Absolutely Anything in Your Novel. Here’s the clip:
Here’s the concept I want to explore with you:
The events that happen in your story are so, so malleable.
You have complete power to change all of them. You are not locked into the first idea you put on the page. You can change literally anything that happens within your story.
I know—sounds simple, right? After all, that’s what editing is. It’s changing the words on the page of your story.
But see, even just saying that right there, I’m pointing out the problem. Changing the words on the page of your story is fairly straightforward.
But changing the content those words communicate, changing the literal actions that happen, changing the events in your plot, that is hard.
I know it’s hard because I see it all the time with writers. You walk into your scene to edit, and you make line edits. You make tweaks to the style. You refine your paragraphs to make them a little more polished, adjust the dialogue to make it a little more realistic.
And honestly, I know it’s hard because I know how challenging it was to learn this myself! It took me years to practice looking beyond sentence-level changes and start editing the story underneath.
All those tweaks to the lines, to the paragraphs, to the word choice in your dialogue? Those are great edits to make. But they’re not developmental edits. They’re stylistic edits.
They will make your writing prettier. But they won’t fix your story.
Fixing your sentences is nice. It’s a legitimate, important stage of the editing process.
But I want to share with you how to developmentally edit your novel. This is the step that comes before the line editing—the step where you make sure you have the story right.
And when you’re editing your story, you can change literally anything. You are not locked into the actions and events that you typed out when you were writing your first draft. You can make the same actions way more intense. Or you can change the actions to something completely different.
You can change anything.
This tip is one of my favorites, and it’s definitely a foundational principle of the way I approach editing every novel and working with every client.
Also, this episode was inspired by another of my favorite podcast episodes: episode 20, Listen in on a Real-Life Scene Edit with Author and Editor Kim Kessler.
In that episode, I brought my friend Kim on the podcast. She shared a scene she’d written of a novel she’s working on, and I edited it with her right there on the podcast.
Here’s a clip from that conversation, which illustrates the principles you heard in the previous clip:
ALICE: I wanted to see more of a crisis response to the ball-of-fire woman walking in the plane.
Because it felt like [the protagonist] got on the plane. She asked for the Coke. She pulled out her sleeping pills and her rum. She got the Coke. She drank just enough of it so she could pour in the rum. She pulled out the sleeping pills.
This guy comes up to give his condolences, so she’s gotta hide her sleeping pills in her rum. And as soon as he walks away, she goes back to pulling them out, opening up the pills, getting her pills out, holding her rum and Coke.
And then this woman walks onto the plane and starts screaming at her.
And she ends up just doing the thing that she was already going to do anyway.
KIM: She just did it faster, which isn’t really a shift, right? Like right. So what is the actual . . . Which I think is why I was like, well, it’s this internal thing.
But there still should be a good external crisis. Like, what is the crisis?
And is it whether to go talk to her, whether to apologize, whether to . . . I don’t know. What is the crisis?
I actually have no idea what it is. So that’s a really great question.
It was so much fun to get to edit Kim’s novel and then share our editing call on the podcast. I’m so grateful to Kim for being willing to share that, and it’s definitely an episode I recommend you check out.
Tip #3: Make your readers feel by showing us what the events of your story mean to your characters.
All right, now for tip number three:
Make your readers feel by showing us what the events of your story mean to your characters.
This tip comes from episode 33: The 3-Step Formula to Evoke Emotion and Make Your Readers Feel.
In this episode, I showed you how to make your readers feel big emotions in your story using the movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as an example. Here’s the clip:
The principle at work here is that the events in your story matter to your characters because your characters assign meaning to them.
When Miles jumps off the skyscraper, that’s automatically important because it’s life or death. Miles values his life, and so something that threatens his life automatically has meaning.
If the writers of that movie had wanted to create a scene where the primary emotion was fear, they could have stopped right there. Mission accomplished. Threaten his life, he feels fear.
But that scene doesn’t just create a feeling of fear. It’s really about a feeling of triumph.
So how did they take that jump a step further? How did they add another emotion, and make it even more powerful than fear of life-or-death stakes?
The way they did it was to make Miles attach a greater meaning to that jump than simply the risk of death.
Miles never forgets that he’s risking death by jumping. But he chooses to face that risk because there’s something that matters more to him. He’s trying to prove to himself that he is ready to be Spider-Man. That he is Spider-Man.
So when he jumps, he’s not only afraid of death, and we’re not just hoping he survives.
He’s also challenging himself to demonstrate his skill and power. And we’re rooting for him to succeed.
And when his webs attach to the building and he goes from falling to swinging through the city in true superhero style, we understand that he didn’t just not die. He actually self-actualized, proving to himself and to the world that he has what it takes to be the person he wanted to become.
We feel Miles’s triumph. And we feel triumph because we know why that jump matters to Miles. We know the meaning he attaches to it.
Tip #4: Create a plot treatment to edit your high-level story structure.
Here’s the fourth tip:
Create a plot treatment to edit your high-level story structure.
This tip is actually an idea that was pitched to me a few years ago by one of my clients, and since then, we’ve used it over and over again to great success. That client is author J.D. Edwin, and she joined me on the podcast to talk about how she has developed her editing process.
Here’s a clip from our conversation:
ALICE: Could you define what your plot treatments are and where that term comes from?
J.D. EDWIN: So I discovered the concept of plot treatments when I was editing Headspace, when I was getting ready for draft two and I was thinking, Man, there’s gotta be somebody who can tell me like, what’s the steps to editing a book? And I was just randomly researching.
And I came across this person who was talking about screenplays.
Apparently plot treatments are mainly used for screenplays. Which I don’t know why, because I think they’re useful for any kind of long draft writing.
But he talks about how he takes each scene in his play and then he writes down what happens in that scene versus what he wants to happen.
And I thought, that’s just really useful. So it was just a thing that I stumbled onto.
ALICE: Yeah it is really useful. So when you send me a plot treatment, you send me a document that is somewhere between, I’d say, twenty and thirty pages long where you have written out every scene. You’ve kind of just summarized all the action that happens in the scene and how it moves the story forward.
You’re basically just telling me the story in twenty to thirty pages as opposed to, you know, 200 to 300 pages. Which is a lot faster to read.
And I will admit, the first time that you suggested that I edit your plot treatment, I was a little bit skeptical, because when you’re reading a summary of a book, you don’t get the same emotional experience of bonding with the characters and feeling their highs and lows along with them, and kind of having that gut reaction to going through a story.
But I am completely sold now. We troubleshoot so many potential problems so early in your drafting process by editing the plot treatment before you write. It’s now something that you’ve used in Master of the Arena and in Orb Hunters and in your current book. You’re just constantly using plot treatments.
In fact, right this moment, I have another plot treatment from J.D. Edwin on my desk to edit. You can hear our full conversation about plot treatments and editing processes here.
And if you’d like to check out J.D. Edwin’s books and see what she’s created using plot treatments, or if you’d like to be the first to know when the book we’re editing right now is published and available for you to read, definitely head over to her website at jdedwin.com!
Tip #5: Figure out what your point is. Then say that.
And now for our fifth and final tip from 2023:
Figure out what your point is. Then say that.
This tip comes from episode 50: Use This One Editing Tip for Everything You Write.
Here’s the clip:
So what happens when you do know what you’re trying to say, and you commit to saying it? (Because don’t get me wrong, that second part is just as difficult as the first, if not even harder.)
Here’s what happens when you do say your point:
First, your writing process becomes so much easier because you know what you’re trying to communicate. You have clarity, direction, a filter for what’s relevant and what’s not, a specific goal you can accomplish.
Second, your writing becomes so much more powerful because it clearly communicates a specific idea to your readers. It doesn’t ramble or leave your readers to do the work of figuring out what it was you were trying to say. It lays it all out for your readers so they can simply receive your idea.
And third, because of this, your readers are much more likely to take away the message you want to communicate. If you muddy the message because you don’t really know yourself what the message is, or you try to hide hints and clues about the message but never clearly present it, then your readers are likely to miss it.
The Top 5 Tips
And that’s it! Those are my best tips from the top five episodes of Your Next Draft in 2023.
Here they are again:
- Edit your novel based on scenes, not chapters.
- Have courage to change absolutely anything in your novel.
- Make your readers feel by showing us what the events of your story mean to your characters.
- Create a plot treatment to edit your high-level story structure.
- Figure out what your point is. Then say that.
So if you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll go check out the episodes I’ve highlighted here and all the other great editing resources I’ve shared on the podcast.
But for now, I’ll leave you with just these five episodes—five of the best from 2023.
I have two more things for you before I wrap this episode up, though.
Get My Most Popular Free Editing Guide
First, throughout this year I have shared nearly two dozen bonus worksheets, checklists, templates, and more as free downloads to help you put all the things you learn on the podcast to use. If you listen to the whole podcast, you’ll find a lot of links to go grab each one.
The most popular resource by far has been the Scene Analysis Worksheet. It’s a worksheet with eleven questions to help you edit every scene in your novel, and it’s been downloaded by hundreds of writers.
If you haven’t gotten it, I’d love to share it with you now. Think of it as my end-of-year gift to you, a great big THANK YOU for listening to Your Next Draft this year.
Enter your email in the form below and I’ll send it right to you:
Thank You for Listening and Reviewing
And finally, while I’ve loved getting to share Your Next Draft with you, the best part by far has been hearing your feedback.
Your Next Draft has landed in several writers’ top podcasts in their Spotify Wrapped, and one of my clients even told me this was her number one podcast this year.
Many writers have emailed me to let me know they’re listening to my episodes, downloading my resources, using the tools I share to revise their novels, and even discussing my episodes in their writing groups.
And Your Next Draft has gotten some amazing reviews, which I’m so grateful for. I’d love to give a quick shout out to some recent reviewers.
Here’s one from Bsize1108:
“I’ve listened since the beginning, and I look forward to each new episode like no other writing podcast I follow. Alice does such a good job of delivering important, helpful content and is a wonderful at reinforcing information from previous episodes. She is to the point and doesn’t waste time- a resource I highly value.”
And here’s one from Acroscribe:
“School’s in. Alice gives advice that makes perfect sense, with real-world examples, and clearly loves writers and the process. Thank you.”
It’s such an honor to get to share my editing with you and know that you’re using what I share to write amazing stories. I don’t take that lightly—it truly does mean so much to me.
If you’ve learned something from Your Next Draft this year, and you haven’t yet left a review, would you mind leaving a rating and review today?
This goes especially for those of you who are listening on an Apple device. If you go to the Apple Podcasts app, you can scroll down to the bottom, tap the number of stars you’d like to rate the show, and then leave a quick review.
If this ends up being confusing or tricky (because Apple Podcasts does not make it as intuitive as you’d think), here’s a step-by-step guide to leaving a review.
Even one sentence means so much to me, and I read every single one. Plus, reviews help new listeners decide whether this is a show that’s worth listening to.
So if you’ve gained something from Your Next Draft this year, and you think other writers would enjoy it too, head over to Apple Podcasts, leave a review, and let them know.
Thank you so much for spending time with me this year and choosing to listen to Your Next Draft as you go about your day. I’m so honored and grateful.
And I can’t wait to share even more editing wisdom with you in 2024!