Posted by: nancycurteman | August 31, 2010

How to Edit a Mystery Novel

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Killer IdeasWriting a mystery novel is really rewriting a mystery novel. Translation: writing is editing. There are two major kinds of editing: Line editing and Content editing (also called developmental, substantive, or structural editing).

Content editing considers point of view, clarity, the ebb and flow of a story, character development, plot development, pacing, the use of anecdotes, similes and metaphors, and accuracy with regard to history, setting, language. Content editing may involve major changes or even a full rewrite. I will expand on content editing in a later blog.

Line editing is addressed after content editing and is an important step in preparing a mystery novel for submission to a publisher. Line editing is what makes a novel readable. It often includes proofreading and copyediting. It will refine tone, style, and consistency. Knowing how to line edit is really knowing how to write. Here are some tips on what to look for when you line edit:

• Find basic  problems in grammar, syntax,  spelling, typographical errors, sentence structure and punctuation.

• Search for over use of passive voice. Substitute active voice whenever possible.

• Check for common stylistic errors, like non-conventional spellings of words.

• Check for formatting errors which often occur when documents are passed between multiple computers.

• Review tone/word usage which includes  mis-used words, overused words, and words which do not belong. Search out the words you rely on and use over and over.

• Get rid of unnecessary adverbs, adjectives and other modifiers.

• Minimize your use of clichés.

• Check to see that your transitions are clear and smooth.

Line editing is less difficult than content editing but just as important. An agent will toss a poorly line edited novel right into the slush pile.

More writing tips:

9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel Global Mysteries
4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”
How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?

How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
7 Murder Weapons That Will Challenge The Cleverest Sleuth
7 Characteristics of Today’s Modern Mystery Novels
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?
What is Story Structure?


  1. I hate editing. :-[ My left brain doesn’t work as well as the right side.


  2. I better bookmark this… One day I might get to the line editing phase, who knows?


  3. I expect I’m in the minority, but I enjoy the process of line editing:

    * polishing clauses, sentences, and paragraphs
    * deleting extraneous words
    * catching the occasional typo, and improving the overall flow of the piece.

    Clearing clutter, even word clutter, improves my mood. ; )

    Thanks, NC


  4. I’m editing Robinson Stone at the moment, and this is good advice to have at my disposal, Thank you, Nancy.


  5. Thank you. I may be doing these different edits while revising my manuscript, but knowing the terms that describe them is delightful. I appreciate this and all your other posts as well.


  6. I’m waist-deep in line editing right now, too, and I find myself seeing every written work with the line-editor’s eye. It’s definitely a whole other state of mind compared to the creative first draft creation.

    I’d like to add variety of sentence length and beginnings. I find it a smoother read when you start a few sentences with a subordinate clause, and when you throw in a really short or long sentence in every once in a while. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

    This was a logical and well structured article. Thanks for such basic and clear information on this vital step in writing.


  7. […] as a whole and in large chunks while line editing looks at smaller bits (see my previous posting on How to  Edit a Novel). Developmental Editing includes plotting, pacing, characterization and narrative structure. Here […]


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