By Grace VanKirk
You’ve finished writing your work of YA literature. You’ve slaved over your character descriptions, dialogue, and ending. But don’t stop yet! Your story deserves the keen eye of an editor to tidy it up and make it as perfect as possible.
Before you take the next step to publication, it’s important to edit your own work. If you edit your own YA fiction writing, your final draft will be more polished, focused, and authentic. By resolving simple errors that subtract from your credibility, tightening up weak areas, and verifying that your voice is strong and consistent, you can ensure your story is something to be proud of.
But how do you edit your own writing? It can be difficult to step back and look at your work objectively. So here are seven tips to edit your own YA fiction writing.
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Table of Contents
How to Edit Your Own YA Fiction Writing
Get rid of unnecessary words
While it can be tempting to use flowery language and elaborate vocabulary, err on the side of concision and precision when writing for your YA audience. This doesn’t mean, however, that your writing should be stiff and formal. YA readers often enjoy novels that have a fresh, fun style, take on an angsty tone, or are narrated by characters who speak like them.
Whatever type of voice you are writing with, strengthen your style by analyzing how you write. Look for repetition of words. If you find that you like to (over)use a particular verb or adjective, replace those words with synonyms or rephrase the sentence. Be creative with your word choice.
For example, in the handbook What Editors Do, edited by Peter Ginna, an editor recalls an author who attached the adverb “darkly” to way too many words. Avoid blunders such as this by cutting down on adverbs and adjectives, and opting for more precise and varied words when you do use these descriptors.
Similarly, don’t write large blocks of description and exposition. It is better to spread this information out to avoid boring the reader. And, delete weak words such as “really,” “very,” and “good.”
Turn passive voice into active voice
Passive voice is the bane of powerful writing, and this is no different when writing YA literature. Compare “The race was won by the cheerful woman in the green tracksuit” to “The cheerful woman in the green tracksuit won the race.” The first example is in passive voice and removes the focus from the subject (the cheerful woman), while the second example is in active voice and makes the sentence stronger and easier to understand right away.
When you edit your own YA fiction writing, turning passive voice into active voice will have a big impact. Active voice propels the story along and helps sentences to flow more smoothly.
You may also like: Turn a Story Idea into a Young Adult Novel with These Five Simple Steps
Make sure details are consistent
Details, details, details. Given the minute nature of details, it can be hard to pinpoint mistakes. But making sure details are consistent will prevent your YA novel from becoming confusing.
A YA writer who is a master of detail is Lois Lowry. Details are not only precise in her standalone books, but are also consistent throughout her series, such as The Giver Quartet. Because the timelines in this series overlap, her careful use of details is crucial. She also uses details to give her readers clues about the identity of characters who were in previous books. When she mentions an adult character’s blue eyes and piercing gaze, for example, we realize he is likely Jonas from the first book, now become a man.
Details such as locations, character attributes, and actions are the types of things you should look for. For instance, if your character walked to the store and bought a hat in the first chapter, make sure they didn’t bike to the store and buy a lottery ticket in the fifth chapter.
If you made a major change from one draft to the next, check that you followed through in every instance. For example, if you changed your protagonist’s name from Howard to Jeremiah, make sure your reader isn’t confused by a stray Howard. Easily fix errors like these by using the “find” function in your word processor to scan the document.
Look at the big picture
Once you’ve cleared up the little details, you should step back and evaluate your young adult novel as a whole. Ask the following questions to review the big picture of your story.
- *Does the narrative arc follow the five elements of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution? Or does it alter this formula to make a statement?
- *Do your themes deliver a compelling message? Are they developed with motifs and symbols?
- *Is the pacing uneven? Are there areas that drag or are rushed? Are there filler scenes that don’t contribute to the story?
- *Does your introduction hook the reader? Does your conclusion wrap up the story and leave your reader laughing, crying, or thoughtful?
Neil Gaiman, the author of YA favorites such as Stardust and Coraline, addresses elements such as these in his Masterclass on the art of storytelling. In the preview to “Developing the Story,” he writes that the question, “What’s going to happen?” is the driving force of any story and the key to keep your readers turning pages.
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Watch for gaps in the plot
Because you have the story planned out in your head, you may not recognize skips in the plot. Readers, however, are sure to pick up on gaps in the story.
Ensure that the reader knows how your character gets from point A to point B, where your character has suddenly acquired a magical object, or why your protagonist is angry at her love interest. You don’t need to account for every minute in the characters’ lives, but summarize and explain situations to prevent breaks in your work of young adult literature.
Clarify character arcs
Going hand-in-hand with plot gaps are flat or unrealistic character arcs. Your character should not suddenly transform from a shy person into an extrovert who loves parties. Instead, they might be a shy person who matures when they find their passion.
If your protagonist undergoes a change in character or moves from one realization to another, these shifts should be gradual but defined. For example, if your protagonist begins as a person who lacks self-awareness and compassion, they should end as a person who is aware of their shortcomings and learns to be more compassionate.
The key is showing how your character’s identity or perspective changes throughout their experiences in the course of the story.
The Hunger Games trilogy, narrated by Katniss Everdeen, is an example of the relationship between perspective and character arc. Katniss moves from a reluctant hero to a determined rebel. She at first wants nothing to do with taking down the Capitol and only volunteers for the Games to save her sister.
However, her perspective changes when she experiences the atrocities of the Hunger Games. Again, this change is not instant, as she only wants to participate in the background rather than be the face of the revolution. But by the end of the novel, she has accepted her role as heroine to the extent of taking matters into her own hands when she executes President Coin instead of Snow.
Take time to proofread
Your last step before sharing your YA novel should be a final proofread. If your final draft has typos that spellcheck would have caught, your validity as an author will be instantly damaged.
You should look for errors in capitalization (minnesota instead of Minnesota), punctuation (cant instead of can’t), grammar (the goats was rambunctious instead of the goats were rambunctious), and formatting (lines should be indented every time a new character speaks).
Don’t let spellcheck be your only review, though. You still need to do an attentive read-through for mistakes that spellcheck won’t flag because they are still words—for instance, “quite” instead of “quiet.”
When you’ve been looking at your writing for hours and hours, it can be easy to see errors without recognizing them. Some things that help to edit your own YA fiction writing include printing it out, changing the text size or font, reading it aloud, or coming back to it after a day or two with fresh eyes.
ACES: The Society for Editing adds that it helps to proofread your book by dividing it into types of content rather than reading it straight through. For example, check all illustrations or all footnotes if you have them, or even read your chapters randomly.
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The Bottom Line on Editing Your Own YA Fiction Writing
Whether you self-publish your books, share your stories with friends and family, post your work online, or are looking to get professionally published, editing your own YA fiction writing will be sure to impress your audience.
The point of editing your own YA writing is not to disparage your work. Instead, it is to identify its strong points and bring the rest of the story up to that standard. This will produce writing that not only keeps the reader’s attention but creates raving fans.