Writing and Editing: Polishing a Manuscript | Learn with Wattpad | Ali Novak | Skillshare

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Writing and Editing: Polishing a Manuscript | Learn with Wattpad

teacher avatar Ali Novak, Writer, Wattpad

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Revising Your Draft (Part I)


    • 3.

      Revising Your Draft (Part II)


    • 4.

      Editing Your Manuscript


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About This Class

Join one of Wattpad's most successful writers Ali Novak for a fun, straightforward class on editing and revising your writing.

While writing a draft is a feat in itself, revising and editing your work is when your story takes shape and the real writing begins! In this 25-minute class, Ali walks through the process of polishing a manuscript for publication. She works on strengthening each part of her story, examining plot holes, pacing, and character structure — all to help you learn a set of techniques to level up your writing and make your work clean, concise, and clear.

Whether you're a writer looking to get your work published, or you just enjoy writing and want to improve your critical eye, this class will help turn your ideas and drafts into well-developed, polished stories.


This class is presented in collaboration with Wattpad, the world's largest community for readers and writers. Looking for more writing classes? Check out more classes with Wattpad Stars, including Writing for Online Engagement with Rebecca Sky, Writing for Consistency with Ninya Tippett, and The Creative Writer's Toolkit with Lindsey Summers.

Meet Your Teacher

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Ali Novak

Writer, Wattpad


Ali Novak is a writer of My Life with the Walter Boys and various other hits on Wattpad. Her most recent novel, Heartbreakers, is now published.

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Ali Novak. I'm the author of My Life with the Walter Boys, The Heartbreakers, and it's soon to be published sequel, Paper Hearts. When I was 15, I wrote my first full length novel, which was My Life with the Walter Boys. I was really excited and proud of myself for accomplishing such big projects, and I wanted to share it with the world, but I never thought a publishing company would take on the rough draft manuscript of a teenager. So, I did what any kid in my generation would do, I Googled how to share it. One of the first websites that popped up was Wattpad, which is the world's largest online reading and writing community. Today, the story has amassed over 58 million reads. Our class today is on writing and editing, polishing a manuscript for publication. In this class, we'll go over the revision process and the editing process. We're going to talk about the different plot holes in your manuscript and how to fix them. We're going to cover the pacing of your story and what to do if it's off. We're going to talk about character goals and how to strengthen them. We're also going to talk about killing your dial ins, something that every writer hates. A lot of the real writing takes place after you write the first draft. Your first draft is always going to be terrible. So, through your revision process, you're taking this very rough story, and you're turning it into a manuscript that's appropriate for publication. If you've written a story before and you don't know what to do with it, this class will teach you how to get that story ready for the world to read and how to get it published. Your project for this class is to take a rough draft manuscript that you've written, and polish it so it can become a published manuscript. 2. Revising Your Draft (Part I): Your project for this class is to take a rough draft manuscript that you've written and polish it so it can become a published manuscript. If you don't have a rough draft manuscript already written, don't worry, you can still listen to this class. Some ideas for helping you get that first rough draft out is to use NaNoWriMo which is National Novel Writing Month or Wattpad's Just Write It. After you finish writing your rough draft don't immediately move into revisions. I personally like to let my rough draft sit for about a month. After that period of a month, I will reread my story to become re-familiar with it without making any changes. Revising is the act of altering the content of your story, which is different than editing, which is revising the actual words of your story. There are four main steps I take when I'm revising my rough draft. First, I fix my plot holes, then after fixing my plot holes I edit my character goals. Then I move into checking the pacing of my story to make sure it's smooth. Finally, I kill my darlings which is deleting unimportant scenes and fillers. First I'm going to start with plot holes, which is a missing element in a story that makes it impossible. I do this by printing out a copy of my rough draft. You can do this on your computer, you can do it in Wattpad, you can do it in a Word document, whatever works for you is totally fine. I like to mark my plot holes with a red pen. When you're looking for plot holes some examples are illogical events. An example of that would be when the villain is easily defeated. Contradictions, for example when a hero is very loving in one scene but incredibly cruel in the next. Drop plot lines or characters, for example when a sidekick disappears to go do something and is never reintroduced into the story. Unexplained changes in character or setting, for example, when a character starts off in New York in the morning and is inexplicably in Tokyo by mid-afternoon. Continuity errors, for example, when a character is said to have blue eyes but has brown eyes in a different scene. Now that you know what plot holes are and have some good examples of them this is how you go about fixing them. Some plot holes are super easy to fix, for example continuity plot holes. This can be done in editing, it's not something to worry about because you can always go back and change the color of your character's eye, or hair or the middle name. Tough plot holes are a lot harder to fix. An example of that would be the unexplained character changes. Their goal's changed, their motivation changes, their personality changes. A tip, if you are stuck, to fix these tougher plot holes is to ask yourself what if. What if my character does this? What if this scene takes place on a highway instead of the grocery store? What if provides endless options and gets you out of a plot hole rut. The next step in my process is after fixing plot holes I turned to my character and re-evaluate their goals. Oftentimes when you're editing and fixing your plot holes, you do a lot of heavy lifting and your story changes dramatically. A character goal is what your character is trying to achieve, attain or defeat throughout the story. A powerful goal will strengthen your character's development, add tension to the story and keep readers reading. If your character doesn't have a goal ask yourself the following. What does your character want? What is the one thing your character is striving for? Maybe your character wants to rebuild a broken relationship. They also may want to right a past wrong. Take a look at your character's original goal. Oftentimes while editing your plot holes, your characters goals and motivation will no longer align with the story. If that's the case your character may need a personality overhaul. Try and find a new goal that fits with the story and the plot. This might be heartbreaking at first because we all grow attached to our characters. However, changing your character's personality or goal will ultimately benefit your story. Here are some ways to strengthen your goal and give your character the purpose they need to keep the plot line moving forward. Consider their fears. Is your character acting out of fear? For example, your character may be motivated to secure their own safety or to eliminate ghosts that haunt them. This fear may be skewing their perception of what they really want and need. Consider their flaws. What less than pleasant personality trait is holding your character back from understanding what they really need. Do they have a tragic flaw that maybe haunts them? Remember that imperfection in your character is good. It makes them human. So, don't be afraid to include it. It will give your readers something to identify with. Also consider your character's desires. Is your character dismissing what they truly need to be happy because they're fixated on a desire? Your character might be blinded by love, be lusting over another character, want power or maybe they want to be famous. There are lots of different desires that keep your characters from recognizing their true path. Finally, consider their motivation. What, other than fears, flaws and desires, is driving your character to take up their goal? Did they make a promise to themselves that they want to keep? Is there an emotion like grief or regret encouraging them to make changes? What is motivating your character to take up a particular course of action? If you evaluate your character's goal and maybe they're lacking a fear, or they're lacking a flaw, this is something you can go in and add to give your character more dimension. When I finished writing the rough draft version of my story, The Heartbreakers. I realized that my main character, Stella, didn't even have a goal. The way I fixed this was by using these tips to give her one. So first, I looked at her fears. Stella was afraid of losing her sister to cancer, and this fear is what motivated her to make decisions throughout the story. 3. Revising Your Draft (Part II): Pacing is the speed at which your stories plot moves forward. The success of your story isn't directly correlated to the pace of your story, but the consistency of your pace. Inconsistent pacing makes your story seem choppy and not very well thought out and planned. When your plot runs smoothly, your story will read well and seem professional. A typical problem for me with pacing is my story starts out too slow and generally, this is because I focus on backstory and exposition and explaining the character's life. Readers, this isn't something they're interested in. They want to know your character's story in the now, not their past. I'm going to give you some tips on how to pick up the tempo of your story without having to rewrite it. My first tip is to nail your beginning, have a really strong beginning. What this means is opening your story at the perfect spot. If the tempo of your story is too slow, it means you're probably starting your story in the wrong place. Favor internal action. There are two types of action in your story, which is external and internal. With external action, this is something that happens to your main character and they react to it. An example of this would be like an alien attack and your character reacts to that attack. External action is great for creating really exciting moments, and these work best at the beginning of your story to get readers interested. On the other hand, internal action is always character-driven. Your main character is either creating the action themselves or preparing for an action that they know is about to come. When you use internal action, you are able to foreshadow future events and create tension needed to ramp your story up. Cover more time. Stories that take place and unfold over the course of a few days, will read incredibly slow. You are including more of the character's everyday happenings to finish the novel. Even if those happenings are exciting, more often than not, time will seem to move more slowly than a novel that covers weeks or months in a character's life. So, it's totally normal to experience the exact opposite of a slow story, a slow pace, and that is when your story has too fast of a pace and everything is happening really quickly to your character. If your novel pacing is too fast, your readers will feel like your story is unplanned and then it'll leave them feeling incredibly exhausted. Here are three ways to decrease the pace of your story. First, examine your beginning. Just like slow stories start too early, maybe your novel is starting too late. If your story opens up an exciting incidents or even the first plot point, you may be jumping the gun on your story. Your readers want to see who the main character is before the story begins. Consider writing a few extra words on the events that happen directly before your opening chapter. Your characters' routines, what they do in their everyday life, you're slowing down the story and introducing your main character before all the hectic craziness begins. Add more dialogue. Dialogue forces readers to slow down and follow along with real-time conversations between your characters. Talking takes time. Adding dialogue is a sure way to slow down the pace and give your reader a break from the constant action of your story. However, don't add dialog simply for the sake of slowing down your story. Dialogue and every other element of your story needs to serve a purpose. You can justify dialogue by relating backstory, establishing personalities, and showing off relationships. So, in my story, the Heartbreakers, in the rough draft version, my main character is seen in a coffee shop meeting the other main character. She's just plopped into this situation, and readers don't know who she is, what she's doing there. So, when I revised my story, I added backstory, I added a family, I gave her a reason for being in that coffee shop. The thing you need to be careful about is don't add too much of that backstory, don't add too much exposition. Otherwise, you're creating the problem of slowing your story down. It's a very fine line. You can go on Wattpad and read the original first scene of the Heartbreakers, where Stella meets Oliver in the coffee shop, and you can also read that scene in the published version. The first four chapters are also on Wattpad, but you can look at all of the extra information and backstory and exposition I added so that the story was slowed down a little bit. Killing your darlings is when you cut out a section or scene of your story that isn't helping your story, doesn't make sense with your story, isn't moving the plot forward, even if it's something that you absolutely love and you think it's the best thing ever, and it's funny, and that readers will love it. The best way to tell a story is to get to the end as fast as possible in the most concise way. By killing your darlings, you're cutting out filler material that isn't necessary for moving the plot forward. Here are my favorite five elements to consider cutting from your story. First is weak characters. Every character in your story should fulfill at least one or two main purposes. They either need to move the plot forward or tell your readers something about your main character. If they don't do these things, they need to be cut. Extraneous plot lines. Each of your subplots needs to serve a purpose. To ensure that they do, you need to consider why you're including these plot lines in your novel. Do they help readers better understand the main plot line or do they foreshadow future events to reveal new information about your character? If not, these plot lines need to be cut. Pointless metaphors and similes. Metaphors and similes are figures of speech that highlight the similarities between two seemingly unrelated things in an effort to further the readers understanding. Metaphors and similes are meant to provide clarity concerning hard-to-understand concepts. But lots of times, me included, authors simply use metaphors and similes to create pretty prose, and that's the beautiful language that you enjoy when you're reading a book. This is a big no no because it adds all this extra fluff to your story and it slows the pace of your narrative down. For example, you don't need to use a metaphor or simile to describe an everyday action that readers understand for example, walking. Backstory. Flashing all your character's backstory is one of the best things to do during prewriting. You're learning about your character. You're learning about your story. It's fun. You're excited. You're inspired. But your readers don't need to know all this information. So, if your backstory doesn't reveal any important information about your main character, it needs to be cut. Unnecessary scenes. Sometimes we authors indulge fantasies by writing about fun but irrelevant things in our stories. Ask yourself, does this scene have a purpose? If it doesn't, move the plot forward or reveal something about one of your major characters, it needs to be cut from your novel. For example, in my story, the Heartbreakers, there's a plot line between two secondary characters. It's a romance. It doesn't help move the story forward. It doesn't reveal anything about my main character. In the end, I cut this plot line because it didn't relate to the main story. These are my four main steps when doing revisions. After I go through all these steps, I will again set my story aside, take a break, give myself time to have a critical eye, and then I'll reread my story once I've taken that time. If there's still issues that are popping up, like plot holes or pacing, I'll do this revision process all over again, and I'll continue doing this revision process until the story is smooth. Sometimes you can do one revision, and your story will be great. Sometimes it'll take five to 10 times. Don't worry how many revisions it takes. Remember you're doing this to create the smoothest flowing story possible. 4. Editing Your Manuscript: After you finished revising your rough draft, you can then begin the editing process. Editing is when you change the actual words of your manuscript to make the story sound better. The two main types of editing is line editing and copy editing. Line edits are when you change the actual wording of your stories so readers enjoy it and the story runs smoothly. When making line edits, you'll go through your story line by line looking for these following things. Flow, check the flow of your novel to ensure that your novel is readable. Make sure your novel uses varied sentence structures and word choice. If you overuse any one element, for example, a favorite word, mine would be really or like, your novel will seem choppy and unedited. This makes it incredibly hard to read, and it will also make your writing look amateurish. Redundancy, you want to make sure that you aren't repeating yourself or stating the obvious. An example of this is when you use a description to describe a character, whether it's their physical attributes or their personality, and you continue to use this description over and over again. It's basically beating your readers over the head with that description. Filler is basically unnecessary description. During line edits, cut out any information that you've included just to add length to your story. If it isn't vital to the reader's understanding or reveal something about your main character or move the plot forward, then it's a filler and it needs to be taken out. Fillers are something that you'll notice line by line versus killing your [inaudible] which is when you're taking out a scene or an entire plotline. It will be a single sentence, maybe just a mention of your character's favorite color or their favorite ice cream. It's not moving the plot forward, it's not revealing anything about your character, so it's a single sentence, a single paragraph that needs to be taken out. Show, don't tell. Readers liked to picture what's happening as they read. Basically, like having a movie play in their heads. If your novel is too straightforward, and you tell your readers what your character is feeling versus showing those feelings through physical signals and mental responses, you may want to consider editing what you've written to reflect a movie like "Mindset." An example of show, not tell is when you say, "My character is sad," versus describing the tears streaming down their face. This will show the readers how your character is feeling without specifically stating that emotion. Copy edits are technical changes you make to the texts so it's more accurate: grammar, spelling and formatting. When I'm copy-editing, I tend to print out a copy of my draft and read it like I'm reading an actual book. This will help me see mistakes. When I'm writing on my computer, I get lost in the story, and it's harder to see those typos, those grammar issues. So, I use a red pen and I circle each of the issues on the actual paper. So, you finished revisions, you finished editing, and the big question is, "How many drafts of your manuscript do you need?" I typically write four drafts. My rough draft, I do two revisions, and then I do one edit. Remember, write as many drafts as you need to write the perfect story. You've cleaned up your manuscript. It's no longer in its rough original form, and it's time for someone to look at it. Beta readers are really important to revising your story and turning a rough draft manuscript into a ready-to-be-published one. Beta readers are writing buddies, critique partners, friends or family who are basically a second pair of eyes, and they look at your story and they point out mistakes, inconsistencies and potholes that you may have missed. This is typically one of the final steps of the revising and editing process. So, every time I post a chapter of my story to Wattpad, I get instant feedback from readers. This is a great tool for you to use if you need help revising your manuscript. Remember that critiques from beta readers aren't be all end all. People have opinions, they might not like the same thing that you do. So, if you get a critique back from a beta reader and you don't agree with it, don't necessarily feel like you have to make the changes they suggest. Whether you're sharing your draft on Skillshare, uploading it to Wattpad, or giving it to your family and friends, just make sure you're getting your story to the point where it's polished enough to share with the world. To see how this process comes to life, you can check out my story, "The Heartbreakers" on Wattpad. My username is Fallswimmer. You'll be able to look at the rough draft version of the story and the first four chapters of the published version. You can also find the story in the resources on Skillshare.