There are two types of editing: story editing (rewriting) and copyediting.
Ask yourself the following questions: Is there continuity? Does every sentence and action serve a purpose in the story? Does the story flow logically? These and other questions are the ones you ask when story editing. This is the editing that you need most. By the time you finish a manuscript you have read every word dozens and dozens of times. See how the story feels. If you read a lot, then you have a feel for a good story or a bad one.
Give it to a friend or acquaintance to read. But beware. A writer cannot have a soft skin. Take criticism and examine it very carefully. If more than two people say the same thing then maybe there is some truth to it. Pick people who read a lot and read the type of book that you are attempting to write.
Ask the following questions when editing:
-Do these words have a purpose?
-Do they relate to my story?
-Is this the time to tell this or should some of it wait?
-Is my timeline consistent?
-Are my characters consistent?
-Are my transitions subtle but clear?
-Is this section necessary? Can it be cut without affecting the main story?
Again do not write things just because you think it's interesting or you want to lecture or educate the reader. A useful technique for story editing is to let the manuscript sit for a while (several days to a week or two) to clear your head and then take a relook.
Rewriting: This is a foul word to most writers' ears but an essential one. Every manuscript I have had accepted for publication has had to be extensively rewritten. By that I mean that although the original idea stayed the same, something that initially seemed rather vital to the story had to change.
Rewriting is not something that just happens after the first draft is done. It too is an ongoing process. Every fifty pages of manuscript, I print it out and go over it. Every time I change the plot somewhat further on in the manuscript, I have to go back and rewrite everything before to fit the change.
It ain't over when you think it's over. When I complete the first draft of a manuscript, my work on that manuscript is somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 completed. Too many writers are so glad to have finally completed all those pages that the thought of having to go back and rework the whole thing is blasphemous. But it has to be done.
I'm writing this section because less than a minute ago I got off the phone with my agent and we were discussing three of my manuscripts, which have been languishing in his and my care. We talked about one and he just threw out several ideas and in the course of them I got a few ideas that might help me re-write and get rid of the weak points of the story.
The most important thing for me about rewriting is to be honest. To very objectively look at a piece of work (which I, as the author, know quite intimately) and find the flaws. Most of the time I know when I'm writing the flaw that it's a flaw. This is a hard area to explain because a lot of times I work simply on gut feeling about what is wrong and needs to be corrected.
Rewriting can vary from having to completely tear apart the manuscript (thank God for computers.) to simply making a few changes here and there. But almost every manuscript needs a rewrite.
I suggest you put away a manuscript for a week or two after you finish writing it to allow yourself some mental distance before looking at it again. Give it out for reads and listen to the feedback. However, don't make changes simply because someone suggests them if you don't feel they are valid. I've spun my wheels on one manuscript making change after change, and what I was changing was the wrong problem. If there is a problem, I believe as the author, if I am honest and take my time, I can usually find it better than probably anyone else (usually, though, after someone else points out that there is a problem to me).
I just received an 11 page, single-spaced letter of comments from my editor on a manuscript that needs to be re-written. I know what it feels like to attend a writing retreat and get back a critique that tears the manuscript apart and recommends changes, some of them rather major.
My first reaction to such a letter is, of course, negative. I've learned to take a couple of days to let that feeling past. Then go through the comments and the manuscript. The next feeling is one close to despair. It appears an almost insurmountable task
There is a process that a writer goes through when getting a manuscript back from an editor/agent very similar to Kubler-Ross's five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
First we deny there is a problem; then we get angry for not receiving validation for the work that has been done or things that are working with the manuscript; then we try to explain away the problem; then we start realizing there really is a problem and the thought of rewriting sends us into a funk; then finally we accept that it really is a problem and must be fixed. Then we can begin rewriting.
Killing it—The ultimate edit: After attending many writing conferences, I believe that numerous aspiring novelists become too enamored of their first manuscript. If you talk to published authors you will find out that the vast majority did not get their first manuscript published. It was an investment in learning. They moved on to write a second, a third, however many it took to get published. It's a difficult thing, but often you have to take the manuscript and shove it in a drawer, give up on getting it published and move on to writing your next one. You have to take out that trusty .45 pistol and put that thing down.
Copy Editing: This is an ongoing process. If you are lucky, your computer will have a spellchecker. I assume you have a reasonable mastery of the written word so this is merely a matter of putting the time in with a red pencil/pen and paying attention to detail. If you are fortunate enough to be published, you will have professionals go over your work with a fine tooth comb and even then they will miss a few things. Remember the following basic rules: -don't repeat words or phrases. -use a style manual.
-don't have secret agents. Always know who is doing what to whom or what.
-The fewer words the better. The bottom line is: Is it clear?
A good technique to help eliminate extra words and to make your writing smoother is to read it aloud and have someone listening with a copy of your manuscript and a red pen. Have them note where your verbal reading "edits" the copy. You will be surprised how much you change what you have written when you have to speak it.
The most important thing to remember about words is: Verbs are power words. Adjectives and adverbs are weaker words that can dress up your work but can also interfere with the smoothness of the writing. Hemmingway is an extreme example of writing using verbs as power words and trying to minimize adjectives and adverbs.
Active versus passive tense: When characters act they are more persuasive than when they react (passive). When characters react they are less sympathetic to the reader. Try not to overuse words ending in -ing. For example: Don was sitting there.
Don sat there.
Do not repeat words if you can help it—especially uncommon words, because the first time it will go by smoothly but the second time will jar the reader and remind him/her of seeing it before.
Adverbs: make sure each one is essential. Ask yourself if you can eliminate the need for the adverb by choosing a different verb.
Avoid overusing verbs that end in -ing. The primary purpose of an -ing verb is to show simultaneity.
Weak verbs. Always see if you can change the word to a more descriptive one.
Avoid vague pronouns. Don't make the reader work to figure out who you are referring to. Always have an antecedent to your pronoun or else it doesn't make sense.
The last word on editing is: Omit all unnecessary words.
Read a lot This my final word on writing. Read to study style and also for story ideas. Whenever I feel myself start grinding down at the keyboard, I pick up a good book and read. It's a form of inspiration and rejuvenation. I also go to the mall and wander around the bookstore, looking at what has just come out and vowing to myself that I can write better stuff than that. So can you.
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