In times past, an author could count on his editorís
guidance and skills to smooth the rough spots and refine his
manuscript prior to publication. The times they have changed! Nowadays
publishing houses expect the submitted manuscript to be print-ready.
So all you writers need to switch hats and learn a few tricks of
editing. Hereís a quick summary of Basic Self-Editing 101.
1. After you've finished writing, don't rush
directly into proofreading. Put your work aside for a few days or even
a month. Youíll look at your work with fresh eyes, allowing you to
catch more mistakes. Editing is more thorough if you print out a hard
copy rather than read it on a computer screen. Youíll see it
differently. Printing it also makes it easier to do line by line
2. Pick your best time of day to do your
proofreading. You know when you do your best work. Read your work out
loud, especially the dialog. Thatís where your characters come alive.
Are they all speaking alike or are their speech patterns unique? Get
rid of as many speaker attributions as you can. When there are only
two people in dialog, they donít need to be identified once they are
established. As you read, notice the places youíre tempted to change
the wording. These need fixing.
3. Donít use adverbs to explain your
characterís emotions. Actions speak louder than words. Beats are
little bits of action interspersed through a scene. They enable the
reader to picture the action, reminding the reader of who your
characters areófamiliar everyday actionsódo
they humanize your characters, are you repeating the same beats?
4. As and -ing are usually
indicators of simultaneous actions. It is extremely difficult and
quite rare for a person to do two actions at one time. Use exclamation
points only when your character is physically shouting. Frequent
italics jar the reader like a poke in the ribs. Unless using them to
define a characterís speech pattern, avoid like a sour lemon.
5. Triple check names, addresses, numbers,
etc. Writing on a computer makes it easy to change a characterís name
mid-manuscript and forget to go back and change the previous uses.
6. Examine your flashbacksóif
they were cut, would readers still be able to follow the story?
7. Everyone has pet words
and phrases that get often used without your realizing. Look for these repetitions. Are
there long passages where nothing happens in real time? Convert
narrative summary into scenes. Include only the information needed to
understand the story. Donít use dialog to get across that information.
Start a new paragraph whenever you have a new speaker. Break up
paragraphs that go on for more than a page in length. Can some of your
longer interior monologue be turned into scenes? Determine whether
youíve stayed in the same head throughout a scene. Establish your
point of view character in a scene a soon as possible.
8. As you reread your manuscript, keep these
- What sort of mood are you striving for?
- Does your villain have characteristics that cause
the reader to sympathize with them?
- Can details describing characters be shown
- Are transitions needed to move your characters
from one scene to another, from one time to another?
Don't forget to proofread the finished product after
you've made corrections. Thereís usually at least one little pesky
typo hiding in there somewhere.
Gay Ingram began her writing career ten years ago
with a newsletter about herbs. Her first novel "Till Death Do Us
Part" was released in 2001. "Tracks On The Sand," a history of her
hometown of Big Sandy, Texas, followed in 2003. She recently
finished compiling "Family Memories," a combination of remembrances
of her family and her growing years. She writes from the country
home she shares with her husband of 47 years in East Texas.