Wednesday, October 26, 2011

All About Editing: The How

This subject is nearer and dearer to my heart right now because I've finished the first draft of the new romance novelette and I started the editing process (with any luck and a lot of hard work, it will be a novella when I'm done). So I thought that I would share my editing process.

The first thing you should know is that I absolutely hate sending out a manuscript unless I think it's ready to be read by people who don't like me. That intense aversion to mistakes and bad writing led to the development of an editing process that is far more involved than the writing process (and my writing process is pretty involved).

Read the whole story.
Read the whole story, beginning to end, as a reader. You can make notes about what to edit, but just read it first. See it for the whole piece that it is because you're about to break it down into its most basic parts and it will be easy to forget the whole.

Read each section/chapter.
Each individual part should stand on its own. Not, you know, totally on its own, but each section should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should move the story along. It should add value to the story. It should be complete.

Read each paragraph.
Each paragraph should be consistent. It should be about something specific. It, like each section, should add value to the story and move it along. Each paragraph should be a shining example of your writing. It should be excerptable. (That is a word now.)

Read each line.
Like each section and each paragraph, each line should be valuable. It should also be different from the one before it and the one after it unless you're going for something specific that requires repetition and similarity. Sentences, lines, have rhythm and flow. I'm not musically inclined, but I know that variation in sentence sound and structure is much more pleasing to my inner ear than a bunch of the same thing over and over.

Read each word.
Each and every word in your manuscript should be the right word. Not almost the right word, not sort of the right word, not close enough. It should be the exact word you mean to convey your meaning. I strongly believe that every writer should spend some time writing poetry. Nothing teaches you to use the right word better than writing poetry.

Search for easily-misused words.
This is a technical detail. Search your manuscript for words that are easily misused. Your/you're, their/there/they're, through/threw and the like. Spellcheck won't catch this because you've correctly spelled the words. Chances are that you'll catch any of these mistakes when you read each word, but it's never a bad idea to be safe.

Search for overused words and phrases.
We all have pet words. We probably even have pet words that change, or words that we associate with a particular story. I had one story that was very lush, very padded, and I used the word "plush" repeatedly throughout it. My beta wanted to beat me with the word. So what I'm saying here is: search your story for overused words. Unusual words and phrases--words like exacerbate and loquacious, phrases like "come with" and "piss-poor"--will stand out to the reader, so using them even more than once in a short piece, twice in a longer piece (unless, again, it's a conscious choice vital to the story/formation of the story) is going to stand out.

Search for -ly words.
Really. Lovely. Squiggly. These words are filler words. They have their place, but the chances are that they've been overused, abused, and treated as a crutch. It's okay, it happens to everyone. Use them sparingly. Think of them as a potent spice, or an expensive one. The more you use them, the less precious they become.

Search for very.
Mark Twain said it best when he said to replace every instance of "very" with the word "damn." It has the same effect and your editor will take them out. If you're DIYing your writing (or you just don't want your editor to think you're overly fond of swearing), change every "very" to "damn" for fun, read your story, and then delete the damns.

Check your details.
The Internet is a great place. It has websites like Google and Wikipedia and communities like Little Details. It's full of people who are experts on something and they're willing to share their expertise. Use them. Check your own details, first. Make sure your protagonist doesn't suddenly change hair color halfway through the story. Or cars, or location, or whatever. Trust me, the reader notices these things. Then check the other details. For example, I had to change my hero's job in the Marines based on some information I found at Wikipedia. Also--and this is a tip from my days as a researcher--it's a good idea to have different sources of information, sources that don't call on each other for backup. I like three sources, personally.

Check your characterization.
You can tell your readers that your hero is a good guy, but if you're writing him being a dickface to waiters and kicking puppies, they're going to know that he isn't. Make sure that you're showing the character traits you want your characters to possess. If he's kind, show him doing something kind. If he's an ass, show him being an ass. And be consistent. Unless, of course, the point is that your character completely changes who he is throughout the story. Then you can do whatever you want, I guess. Just make sure that your character is behaving in the ways you would expect from someone who is like him. This is where observing people becomes a useful skill.

Check your plot.
Are there any holes? Sew those suckers up. You don't want the reader to be halfway through the story and saying, "This doesn't make any sense." Remember: the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. It has to. You can't rely on your readers to say, "Ah, well, that's just how it goes." That is not how it goes. How it goes is exactly how you write it and you need to be the God of your written world. You need to keep track of everything and make sure that everything has a purpose and a reason.

Check your subplot(s).
If you're writing anything longer than a short story, you probably have subplots. Do the same checking for them that you do for your main plot. Resolve them however you want, but a resolution is not abandoning them mid-story because they're inconvenient.

Read it out loud.
Reading your work out loud forces your brain to relay information to your mouth. Because it has to work harder, it notices things it missed when you were just reading silently. I don't know if that's true because I made it up, but reading your work out loud is just one more way you're guaranteed to find things you wouldn't have found otherwise.

Ignore it.
I know that every list of advice on writing tells you to ignore your work or leave it alone. This is good advice. You gain some distance and some perspective. You return to your work with a fresh eye and a fresh ear. Let it sit for as long as you need, then come back to it and repeat the editing process.

Read it again.
Read it to yourself and then out loud one more time. Make changes as needed, but this time, it doesn't need the machete it needed before. It just needs little tweaks. Sound good? Look good? Feel good? Great. Only two more steps left to go!

Send it to someone else.
No matter who you are, your writing can always benefit from someone else's perspective. That's why publishers employ editors and that's why good fanfic writers use betas. If you value your writing at all--and of course you do, you're reading this post--you will hand your work over to more than one someone else. These will be people you trust. These should also be people who are not butt-kissers. They should be just as hard on you and your writing as you are. (But not harder. No one should ever be harder on your own work than you are.)

Make changes accordingly.
Once you get your manuscript back from your editors and beta readers, you should have feedback to consider. The changes you make are entirely up to you. You're the writer. Your word is law as far as your writing goes. But, again, if you care at all, you will consider the feedback you get and you will make changes.

Read it one more time.
Okay, I lied, there's one final step. Read it again. All the way through. Resist the urge to make any more changes as you read and simply read it as a reader. It should be as perfect as you can make it now. This should be your best possible work. Congratulations!

No comments:

Post a Comment