What Is a 50-Page Edit… and Why Will It Rock Your Story?

Whether or not you edit as you go really isn’t the bazillion-dollar question. The real questions you should be asking yourself are “What’s the 50-page edit?” and “Why am I not taking advantage of it?”

Okay, so it wouldn’t take IBM’s Watson computer to answer that the first question. The 50-page edit is pretty obviously an edit that takes place around the 50-page mark. Why 50 pages—and not 40 or 60 or 38.5? Well, honestly, no good reason except that the big five-oh is a memorable milestone, one that should find you approximately a quarter of the way into your story. That’s far enough for you to have some serious mileage in your rearview mirror, but not so far that your destination is anywhere in sight. In other words: It’s the perfect place to stop and remember where you’ve been, so you have a better idea of where you’re going. In his book Revision and Self-Editing, legal thriller author James Scott Bell refers to the 50-page edit as the “20,000-Word Step Back”:

After 20,000 words you stop, take a day off, then read what you have. By this time your story engine should be running. You’ve done enough of the novel to know pretty much what it’s about. You then take some time to make sure you like the characters and the direction…. You can also make a decision about the tone and feel of your novel. It may want to take on a different emphasis than what you had planned. A better novel may be asking to be released.

Bell only recommends one 50-page edit, but I take it one step further by printing off my manuscript every 50 pages. So maybe you’re now asking yourself a third question: “Why should I go to the time and trouble of editing my novel every 50 pages?” Take a look at some of the benefits:

  • Grounds you in your story.
  • Helps you spot inconsistencies.
  • Helps you fix plot holes.
  • Reminds you of details.
  • Helps you identify potential foreshadowing and symbolism.
  • Allows you to recognize when you’re on the wrong track.
  • Polishes your first draft.
  • Helps you build the next 50 pages.

Whether your preferred writing method is planning or pantsing, by the time you actually start crafting your first draft, it’s amazingly easy to get lost in the minutiae. The fact that crafting a single scene sometimes takes days can put us in a mental time warp and fog our memories about scenes we wrote even just a few pages back. The 50-page edit centers us in our story, reminds us of what we’ve already written, and keeps us on track for the next 50 pages. In a novel-writing journey that can span months and even years, the 50-page edit is an important tool for ensuring our stories maintain cohesion and consistency over the entire story arc.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever utilized the 50-page edit? What were the results?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Editing as we go can end up being a quicksand trap. We just get sucked in deeper and deeper! But I do think it’s extremely valuable to stop at pre-determined points and review what’s written and bring it up to speed.

  2. Michael Saltar says:

    I can’t deny the benefits you’ve listed, but the danger for me is to fall into REWRITING those pages. I must forge ahead, so here’s what I do after the read:

    1) Fix any glaring errors or simple tweaks.
    2) Make notes for any major changes I now plan to do.
    3) Forge ahead with the rest of the pages!

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