1. Write the novel.
As important as writing the novel is, I'm just joking here. But can a writer edit a novel without writing one? Of course! It just wouldn't be the writer's novel, it would have to be some other writer's novel. The title of this post dictates, however, that these are three things to do before editing your novel. Thus we can determine that these things should be applied to a novel you have already written.
Okay, here we go.
These things come from my own observations, or more aptly put, my own regrets. But I think they are good ideas in general.
1. Create a chapter-by-chapter outline of your entire novel.
I am no outline writer. Indeed, when I get an idea the flesh is put on it as I write. But I know that a precise, though brief, outline of what each chapter is about in my novel would be very helpful. That way, if I have a question about a certain event I can reference the chapter outlines and go directly to the chapter in which the event was supposed to happen. I have spent a lot of time flipping back through my novel when it would have been faster to look at my chapter outlines. I know I have written one of these lists, but the file is buried in my many files within several folders. Thus, in conclusion of this section I would advise not only writing a chapter-by-chapter outline, but printing it out too so that you don't forget you have it.
2. Create a list of characters.
This list allows you to keep track of your characters. It should contain the rudimentary descriptions of your characters as well as the primary occurrences in their lives. It would also be helpful to note which characters, usually minor, die and when or when they leave actual influence to the plot-line. I lost track of one of my characters that I had early on. I forgot about him. If I had created this list I would have been noticed his unexplained disappearance earlier instead of getting halfway through the edits and then saying, "hey, what happened to so-and-so?"
3. Create a list of the major events.
When I saw major events, I mean major, plot twisting events. This meshes with number one certainly and probably even number two, but it will allow you to see individually every major event. This will help you spot plot holes, I know it would help me. I have a mental list, but I still have to flip back through pages to reassure myself that a certain event has already happened.
There you go. I intend to put these three things into practice for myself this afternoon. I regret not having done it earlier, considering I am halfway through my final edit, but they should be useful things even for the second half. If you think it will be hard to compile these lists, you're thinking rubbish. At this stage you know your novel better than anyone else, so compile those lists and edit that killer novel of yours!
Joshua A. Spotts