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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Basic Self-Editing 101

by Gay Ingram

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 proofreading.

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 in mind:

  • 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 through actions?
  •  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.
















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