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Copy Editing A Novel, by Helene Young

Last month I did a blog post about structural editing. Today I want to talk about copy editing and what this brings to your story. If structural editing lays the foundation then copy editing checks to make sure the colours and tones are perfect.

A copy edit can be just as protracted as a structural edit and with Half Moon Bay my editor chose to send me the work in batches as she finished working on them. It certainly made the task feel less daunting and more manageable.

Copy edits address things like repetition of phrases, overuse of words, lack of continuity in a scene or discrepancies in the action. Some of these issues will arise because of rewriting in the structural edits. A character may have had a significant shift of focus during the structural edit and that change will now need to be rechecked during copy edits to ensure they are still a consistent character.  They may have taken on a larger role, so extra detail will be required to make them more rounded.

Sometimes it’s just random inconsistencies. My editor discovered Ellie was a little busy in Half Moon Bay changing clothes when she should have been rescuing people. We’d amalgamated two scenes and Ellie started out in a loose cotton shirt and cargo pants. By nightfall she’d ended up in an oversized t-shirt and track pants. The discerning reader would have picked that up and sent me a polite email pointing out she hadn’t been home during the day and was unlikely, in the middle of all that action, to slip in a little side-trip for clothes shopping!

I have a terrible habit of finding new words to torture. This time round we had a lot of rippling (of muscles of course!), rolling of shoulders (you’d think they were in a shoulder rolling contest…) and cradling (of heads). In an earlier book my editor left me a succinct note – ‘If she tosses her hair one more time, I’ll cut it off!’ I got the message…

Sometimes it’s as simple as reusing the same word or phrase within a paragraph or two. Here’s an example of solving that dilemma.

‘…Ron barely waited for her to start the car as he struggled to get the seatbelt fastened. ‘So, are you going to tell me the whole story what’s going on?’

She shot a quick glance at him. ‘You mean Lawson?’


‘Right. But don’t get cranky with me.’


Ron listened as she poured out the whole story. He shifted his big bulk in his seat and ran a finger around his collar when she spoke of having Nick over for dinner…’

A fresh pair of eyes is crucial to identifying these issues. If you are considering self-publishing then you need to either employee or find people you trust to do this important editing for you. With the best will in the world you will read the words on the page in the order you want them to be, which is not necessarily the way you’ve typed them!

Once this editing step is completed you’ll know you have all the walls painted and the soft furnishings in place. Your novel is almost ready to go. This is also the point where a publisher will release Advance Review Copies (ARC) to be sent to booksellers and reviewers as the sales and marketing team make their pitches.

From here the final step is the two layers of proof reading. More of that next time!

Happy writing.


Helene Young’s author website:

Helene Young’s bio page


Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning Lies     The Indigo SkyHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jenn J McLeod | Come home to the country... #

    Nice analogy, Helene. It sounds like you are building a House (for all Seasons, perhaps????? 😉 LOL Could not resist that. Another excellent blog post, given I am on an editing panel at Bellingen Writers Festival tomorrow. Why did I not think to use building a house as an analogy?!

    March 23, 2013
  2. Excellent post.


    March 23, 2013
  3. About to start this process – great advice Helene. Thanks!

    March 23, 2013
  4. Thanks for this post it was really informative.

    March 24, 2013
  5. anitadresden #

    Thanks this is something everyone needs to be aware of in communication of any kind. Grammar or rather correct grammar is something that is disappearing.

    March 24, 2013
  6. Lol, Jenn, I thought for sure you’d see editing in terms of building houses!! I hope you had a fabulous day at the Bellingen Writers Festival.

    March 24, 2013
  7. Thanks, Efthalia and rlsharpe. Hope it helps!

    March 24, 2013
  8. Victoria, my other advice with copy edits is to embrace them. They can at times be confronting but usually the editors are spot on. Going for a walk always works for me – I come home with a clearer head, and usually, having accepted that the editor is spot on with the suggestions.

    March 24, 2013
  9. Anita, grammar is certainly a problematic area. With dialogue, to a large degree, it’s overlooked and I know that rankles with readers like my 91 year old mother. In other areas it’s become more relaxed and I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. Perhaps short messaging has changed the way we write our language forever…

    March 24, 2013

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