You’ve heard it before; my big deal when I’m writing is to “Write, don’t edit.” You know…don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you can put off for months, right? Well, now that I’ve finished the writing bit, I can’t put it off any longer. I have to sit down and do what I’ve successfully avoided.
Editing is hard; everyone knows that, but why? I mean, why edit at all? Just run that puppy through the spell-checker and send it out, right? Wrong. Seriously wrong.
Unless you’re a frakking genius who can formulate entire novels in your head before you type your first golden word (and you’re not; I’m not; no one is), you have to edit.
When I finally get into Edit Mode, I go through my novel several times, concentrating on different tasks each time. Here are some of the types of editing I do, from simplest to most complex:
- Fact-checking: This is where I fix all of my <?> notations, make sure I’ve properly calculated the phase of the moon, etc. In essence, even though it’s fiction, there are things that have to match up with our real world. This is tedious, but it’s one of the first things I do.
- Spelling and Grammar: Spell-check and grammar-check won’t catch everything. The former won’t blink if I’ve correctly spelled a homophone, and the latter doesn’t like fiction where syntax rules get relaxed.
- Foreign Words and Phrases: I check and double- and triple-check these. Then I have someone who knows the language quadruple-check, if I can.
- Dialogue: Does it really sound like something someone (specifically that character) would say? I’ll read a lot of it out loud and see if what I’ve written is really a speakable line. You’d be surprised how bad a well-written line can sound when you actually say it out loud.
- Continuity: It’s just as important in a novel as it is in movies. If my character comes in and sits down at the table, I don’t want him to sit down at the table three paragraphs later. Movement, possessions, who’s in the scene, who isn’t, and so forth.
- Repeated Words and Word Use: This is one of the things I can only get when I read through the thing. I mean, face it; it’s hard to write a whole book that takes place in the prairie and not repeat a particular descriptive phrase.
- Weasel-Words and Tightening: This is a big one. There are all sorts of words that weasel their way into my writing that make it bloated and weak. Words like “seemed,” “just,” and “almost” (for a few examples) are rarely necessary and always weaken the impact of a sentence. I can often trim five or ten percent in a given chapter, especially if it’s light on dialogue.
- Description: One reason editing is so hard to do well is that I’m me, and not someone else. What I mean is I know how the scene goes in my head, so it’s hard to be objective enough to see if I’ve actually put it all down on the page. I also like to make sure I include all senses in my descriptions. It’s too easy to concentrate solely on the visual. If there’s a smell or a sound or a touch or a taste I can add, and if that won’t overload the scene, I’ll edit that in and see if it works.
- Overall Pacing and Flow: This one also requires a high level of objectivity, and I find it easier to do this if I put the novel down for a week and don’t touch it (which I find really, really hard to do). Sometimes I’ll give it to one of my First Readers which enforces a halt. The point, though, is to come at it fresh and see if there’s anything that doesn’t work. If anything goes “clunk” when you read it, it can pop the reader right out of the story, and that’s bad…real bad.
I’ll do some of these in the same pass through the novel, and I find it very helpful to work with a hardcopy—it’s too easy to miss things when working at the computer.
So….off I go…