If you missed my post yesterday about editing, you can read it here: The Importance of Good Editing.
First the meaning of First Draft: The version that has never been edited, just written without thought of little else but getting the words down on paper. Mind you, after all these years of writing, I try to write correctly the first time. In other words, I properly edit and spell on the fly as much as I can. Don’t confuse this with rereading passages to edit before proceeding to the next scene. I’ve met writers in the past who don’t perform basic editing while writing, simply write incomplete sentences with very little punctuation. This makes editing the manuscript that much more labour intense. If you know quotation marks go there, put them in as your write.
As promised in yesterday’s post here are the steps I take to edit my manuscript after I’ve completed the first draft.
1. Read the manuscript for consistency, to see how it feels as a whole story. I ask myself the following questions:
- Does it make sense to me and will it make sense to readers?
- Does the time frame work? In other words, is a character five years old in one paragraph and eight in another even though only a few weeks passed? Or is it snowing in one chapter and summer in the next with only a few hours passing?
- Is every character necessary, are they consistent and are their names correct? I don’t want the side-kick to be called Freda in chapter one and Betty in chapter six unless there is a darn good reason for it.
- Is there enough action/plot/character development for it to be a complete, interesting story?
- Do the chapter divisions make sense?
If I find issues with any of these items, I fix them before moving on to Step 2.
NOTE: When I write, I am certain about how the story will unfold. Some people know because of detailed outlines, but I prefer to have the outline in my head. I seldom do major rewrites now that I’ve written several novels. If you don’t have this experience or have difficulty with organising scenes, keeping the action cranked up and staying on track with the plot, this step may require a lot more work. Keep writing though. Eventually it gets easier. Shadows in the Stone, my first fantasy novel, was completely rewritten from start to finish. Very few items from the original withstood this step in the editing process.
2. Read the manuscript and check verbs to see if they are the best I can use in the given situation. Get out your thesaurus (Ignore those people who say you should never use one; how else are you going to learn new, exciting words?). If you can use sped past instead of ran quickly past, then do it. I don’t use long, complicated words that the average individual would never use. I choose more appropriate simple verbs.
This is also the stage where I check to see if I have over-used a verb. Here’s an exaggerated example: He ran into the house, eager to get the map. The front room was empty, so he ran up the stairs and ran into the bedroom. Running to the closet, he flung open the door. He grabbed the map and ran from the house.
Instead check your thesaurus for run verbs: He raced into the house, eager to get the map. The front room was empty, so he sprinted up the stairs and ran into the bedroom. Rushing to the closet, he flung open the door. He grabbed the map and dashed from the house.
During Steps 1 and 2, I look for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. In fact, during every step I’m on the lookout for these bad boys.
3. Do a search and destroy of a specific list of words that I have red-flagged during my editing history: The words I search for are:
- Were: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: They were shouting at the building. to They shouted at the building.
- Was: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: The ball was flung into the air. to The boy flung the ball into the air.
- Some: Too general: Some fairies flew into the sky. to A dozen fairies flew into the sky.
- Been: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: Although distance had been put between them, it provided Delanie no relief from the feverish temperature. to Although they now stood apart, the short distance provided Delanie no relief from the feverish temperature.
- That: Unnecessary word 80% of the time: You should have seen the look on his face when I told him how sweet it was that he had sent you flowers. to You should have seen the look on his face when I told him how sweet it was he had sent you flowers.
- Began: Unless you are going to finish it, don’t begin it: I began walking to the door, opened it and left. to I walked to the door, opened it and left.
- Started: Same as began: They started to eat their supper while music played in the background. to They ate their supper while music played in the background.
- Very: Unnecessary: I was very cold. to I was frozen. I was very happy. to I was happy.
- Even: Not needed in many cases: The apples were even higher on the tree than expected. to The apples were higher on the tree than expected.
- Just: Just because it’s mostly not needed: I just went home and sat on the chesterfield. to I went home and sat on the chesterfield.
- Thing: Too general, and in most cases identifying the object improves the story: I grabbed the things on the table and skipped out the door. to I grabbed the dead frog and holey sock on the table and skipped out the door.
This is also the time I search for words/phrases that have tripped me up in the past. For example, I’ll check to see if past and passed are used correctly. Further and farther are two more that can be easily misused.
I also check to ensure I’ve been consistent with my spelling. For example, did I use leant or leaned, spilt or spilled and dreamt or dreamed? Regardless of which spelling you use, make sure it’s the same for the entire manuscript.
4. Read the entire manuscript aloud and edit. Reading aloud reveals issues with flow and words that just don’t sound great together. I had edited Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove numerous times, but until I read it aloud, I hadn’t realised Ellis and Alice sounded almost exactly alike. Since they were two of four main characters who had a lot of air time together, it was important their names not only looked distinct but also sounded differently. Since this was a children’s chapter book, it was quite possible a parent would read it to a child. In the end, I changed Alice to Shona to make her stand out.
I can’t stress enough how important this step is in my editing process. I read aloud everything from my 500-word genealogy column to my 160,000-word fantasy novel. If you have never read your work aloud, give it a try. You might surprise yourself.
5. Run Spelling and Grammar software: I know. I’ve heard the experts: Don’t use the computer software for spell check and grammar! Blah! Get over it, experts. Step down off your high horse and reconsider.
Why do I use this feature? Because in an instant, I might see I mistakenly used their instead of there. BANG! One mistake I may have missed was found. Even after I’ve completed steps 1 to 5, there are still mistakes hiding in my manuscript, and if software can point out a few of them, I’m using it. This doesn’t replace a proper edit, but it is a tool to help reduce the number of errors in a manuscript down to as close to zero as I can get it.
Of course, the software won’t correct things for you most of the time; the writer still needs to know whether to accept the advice of the program (and repair the error) or to discard it.
6. Print the manuscript in 12 point Times New Roman (or some other easy-on-the-eyes font) with 1.5 spacing between the lines. Read it; write on it; make corrections. For some reason—and I appear to not be the only one—I can spot errors on paper that I can’t see on the computer screen.
The printed version also allows me to see the ‘big picture’. I can lay out each chapter in its own little stack, perhaps rearranging them if I want.
The added bonus to this editing step is that I now have a well-edited, printed copy of my manuscript that can be put away for safe-keeping. If you don’t back-up your computer system and it crashes, you at least have this copy. Or if you put aside the story because life gets in the way and years later you decide to return to it, you’ll have this copy that didn’t get lost in the shuffle of upgraded computers, lost memory sticks and family break-ups.
7. If I make large changes in my print edit, I sometimes reread the manuscript on the computer to see if the changes didn’t create a disturbance in the force.
This is the point I send what some would consider an unedited manuscript off to an editor.
It sounds like a lot of work, but as I said, either you can do the work or pay an editor double (or triple) to do it for you. If you plan to self-publish, the largest financial investment you’ll make to get your book published is in editing services. As I’ve also stated, readers will know if you didn’t do a good job with editing. It’s up to you to put your best book forward.
More on the Passive Voice at Guide to Grammar and Writing website.
Diane Tibert is a writer, columnist, editor and publisher. Need an editor or someone to format your eBook or book for CreateSpace? Check out her prices here.