Now that we have our brain in gear (hopefully) and we have some things to consider along the way, let's move back to the two-rounds-of-self-editing stuff. If you are just joining us, be sure to check out part one of Prep Your Manuscript for Your Editor, then come back and join us here!
Round One: Content
The first round I recommend is to review content. Sure, blaring grammatical mistakes might just have to be changed to prevent insanity, but if you can help it, try to read the whole shebang and take notes along the way.
Yes, take notes.
- Jot down what your character's characteristics are so that you can return to the list if you ever need the reference.
Keep a timeline. What kind of time frame is your setting? Keep simple notes of their moves like where they're sitting and when they stand. You'd be surprised at how many characters magically appear across the room in the next paragraph. Don't forget basic human needs along the way. When was the last time your character ate? Drank? Slept? How long has that casserole been in the oven? Keep a running tally of what day it is (if your story spans that much time) so that days don't disappear.
Question your characters and their motivation(s). Here are a few examples.
- What are your characters claiming they are going to do?
- Do they end up doing it?
- Why are they doing it the way they are?
- Did the danger ever present itself?
- Was your zenith as epic as you'd thought?
- Did your denouement tie all the loose strings you'd left hanging?
- If not, was it intentional?
Round Two: Sentences, Word Choice, and Grammar
Once your story is in one flowing piece, hit up the sentencing and words.
If the details of written English aren't quite as interesting to you as telling a story, you're definitely not alone. And don't forget there are different style guides out there, so while the rules are largely similar, some guides are sticklers for different things. Though not always correct, Word does a decent job at catching basic errors, so if your manuscript has a bunch of evil squiggly lines, you might want to give those a bit of attention.
Here are some things that will make your writing stronger as you go through your second round of edits.
- Typos are one of those simple errors that easily hog your manuscript's editing time. When in doubt, search for the term online or look it up in an online dictionary. I prefer using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (because the Chicago Manual prefers Merriam-Webster), and they have a free version online that anyone can use. Bookmark it. Utilize it.
- Not all English is the same. Personally, I love learning all the intricacies and variations of language, but while it might fascinate me, it frustrates many more. Simple words like toward/towards and favorite/favourite aren't necessarily spelled incorrectly but match different dialects of English. Consider the content of your book and ensure your language matches both your geographic and time settings. If those aren't telling, target your audience. If most of your readers are in the US, it would behoove you to use American English language rather than British (or Commonwealth) English.
3. -ly Adverbs
- If you tend to use -ly adverbs when you speak, it's pretty likely your manuscript is going to have more than a few. Try to limit using these where you can by either eliminating them or rewording them. Not everything needs to happen suddenly or immediately, and using these words too often will not only dilute their power but will become lazy writing. Check out this list of adverb alternatives, then as you go through your manuscript, you can alter them with better word choices.
4. Murder Crutch Words
- You could probably eliminate half of your uses of that in your manuscript and your story will not change. Some of them could even be changed to who, which is strictly grammatically correct when referring to a person. If you're a client of mine, you've likely received a comment from me regarding how many you have and asking you to more trimming than I already did. Check out this list of common crutch words, then as you go through your manuscript, you can stab them with your . . . mouse and keyboard clicks.
5. Clear Prose
- Keep your sentences from becoming too long. Clauses do a good job of eliminating extraneous uses of the verb "to be" (is, are, was, were, etc.), but you want to minimize the number of times a reader needs to reread a sentence to understand it. When it doubt, write for an audience younger than your target. The easier it is for your readers to follow and the clearer your sentences are, the more likely it is to reach a broader audience. Ensure your presentation is simple and direct so that your ideas are easily accessible.
Read it aloud.
I almost wanted to put this into a third round, and honestly, doing so might work well for you. If you don't have an enormous amount of free time on your hands, and your manuscript is of the longer variety, you could also read it aloud while working through round two, doing it pieces at a time and correcting as you go. If you do have time to read it aloud in one go once you're all done, even better.
Avoid edit spiraling.
It's not unlikely that you'll hate your book when you've done both (all three?) rounds of self-editing. Bank on that feeling being temporary, but avoid letting it suck you into an editing void. Altering or rewording the same thing over and over because you are frustrated with every version you've come up with is an endless cycle that'll leave a smudge in your story. Take a note of it on your style sheet and let your editor know it was a troublesome spot for you so they can help you determine if it was fiddled with too much or if it's all right and you simply needed to let it lie.