Saturday, February 12, 2011
SELF EDITING, PART 1
Today we start a two part series on the all important skill of self-editing. This is a comprehensive subject, so for the sake of blogging brevity I am breaking it into a series of short post lessons to address it properly and hold your attention. As writers, we must first, of course, write a good book. But before sending your manuscript off to your editor, and assuming he or she will “fix” all your boo-boos for you, it is imperative that you do your own best job of editing your work first.
You can do the obvious things, like checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Everyone uses spell-check these days, but that is no guarantee you do not have “wrong” words in your manuscript. Spell-check will not correct things like “too” where it should be “to,” or “then” when it should be “than,” or “you” where “your” should be. So there is no substitute for good old-fashioned reading your manuscript with a critical eye. After completing a first draft, put it away for at least a week–two is better–or even a month. Work on something else and/or read other authors for a while. Then pull it out and read it with fresh eyes.
Look for these glaring turnoffs:
• Excessive use of italics for internal dialog, especially in the first three chapters. Rewrite in such a way as to let the reader know these are the character’s thoughts.
• Overuse of sentence fragments as “style” elements. Like this. Or that.
• Overuse of exclamation points! It makes your writing sound like a constantly barking dog!
• Overuse of question marks? As with exclamation points, they are strong punctuations. Do not overuse them. It is considered amateurish. Where “What did you say, John,” will do, do not write, “What did you say, John?”–unless there is some reason for the redundancy made obvious by the context.
• Overuse and/or misuse of commas. You will find dozens of excellent tutorials online on this subject. Do a Google search, bone up, and make corrections.
Next: Using the Word tools, “Track Changes,” and “Spelling and Grammar,” do the following:
• Eliminate repetitious words. Look for words used more than twice or thrice in close proximity. Switch on Track Changes, and then click on “Edit.” Use the “Find” feature to locate those words everywhere in your manuscript. Have your Thesaurus handy or up on your browser, and use it to replace repeated words with appropriate synonyms. An exception to this is if you have a character that has a quirky trait of using a certain word or phrase. Even then, do not overdo it.
• Eliminate adverbs and adjectives. Strong prose uses verbs and nouns. Period. Do a search for words ending in “ly.” Eliminate them. For instance, if you have written, “John ran quickly to the car,” it is much stronger to write, “John ran to the car.” Running is quick, is it not? If you want to jazz up the pace, use “sped” or “raced” or “sprinted” to replace the verb, but don’t weaken its strength by qualifying it with an adverb.
• Find, and eliminate where possible, passive voices. Use Spelling and Grammar to search for them and rewrite. Most publishing houses want no more than 5% passive voice in a manuscript. Less is better.
• Use the “find” function to edit out your idiosyncrasies. We tend to write the way we talk and think. This can become intrusive in a novel if your “voice” is entering into the story in an inappropriate manner. Do a “find” search for all those phrases and/or favourite words, and consider rewriting.
Marvin D Wilson, multi-published author and editor with All Things That Matter Press, using the pen name “Professor Old Silly,” posts writing tutorials on his blog each Tuesday. The above tutorial is a re-post from the archives of his blog at: http://theoldsilly.com.