Oddly drafting and editing has become one of my favourite parts of writing. Polishing that little diamond of work can be fulfilling and, let’s face it, help to get you published. Long gone are the days where just the skill of creative writing will get you by, now you must be adept at editing and re-drafting your work – the less work your publishers need to do on your manuscript, the better.
So there’s a massive amount of books out there that will tell you intricate and annoying ways of doing this, some might even wimp out and tell you get someone else to do it – the fact is, most writers don’t have the money to spare on a professional editor and, to be frank, you are the most passionate advocate of your work so you are really the best polisher to make it sparkle – at least in the first instance.
It took me many attempts to perfect this process, and to be honest it’s still an ongoing challenge, however I can tell you what I’ve learnt along the way with working with editors and give you a starting point to perfect your own way of editing and proofing.
What I do is have a 8 check system. Each time I read through my work I’m specifically checking for one thing. This makes life much easier and also ensures you are more likely to spot a mistake rather than just keep reading over and over again.
1) Check for consistency of story – Check that all your questions have been answered, all your important plot points are lined up and that characters are described in the same manner – it’s confusing to the reader to have their protagonist described first as blonde an then as a red head in the next chapter – of course, unless you want to include a dramatic hair dying scene!
2) Flourish – I add descriptions in poignant parts of my story and cut down on bits that are overtly flowery and take the reader off point. Descriptive prose is how you express yourself as a writer however a whole manuscript in this style can make for an acrid style and can quite frankly annoy the reader. Only using this technique on scenes that matter will ensure that your reader enjoys the story and focuses on the plot points they need to.
3) Tenses – you can’t always have the same tense, if you talk about the past then obviously you need your tenses past, however you need to pick a long term tense for your manuscript. The usual is past – although sometimes present helps more with tension. It really depends on what you are writing – horror tends to work better in present tense as it can help to ramp up the scares. Personally I’m partial to my romances in past tense as it eludes to that happy ever after ending that goes hand in hand with a good romance.
4) Perspective – You really can make a rod for your own back with this one if you’re not careful. Pick the perspective (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and for which character, and stick to it. When you look back you need to be aware that, depending on your perspective, you’ll have limitations and so check that these are adhered to in your manuscript. For example, if your character is taking first person you need to make sure that the action is limited to their presence – they can’t talk about something they didn’t hear about or witness.
5) Cliches – ahhh, lips like rose petals. We hear cliches all the time and so its natural that they should creep into your work – however they should never stay there. Take the time to look through and check that you are not falling into cliched chasms in your prose – dialogue is up for grabs as people do talk in cliches, but your prose should be blissfully cliche free.
6) Info Dumps – We have of course covered these, but I really feel strong enough about them to dedicated a whole draft to checking for them. Identify them with a highlighter and then re-write that information back in in a less obvious way.
7) Grammar – This is one of the most important drafts. Grammar can change the structure and meaning of a sentence. Without the correct grammar your manuscript will not make sense! Seriously! You need to take sometime and learn the proper usage of grammar and ensure that you’ve checked for it in one of the final sweeps. OK you probably will miss some mistakes, but by ensuring the majority are caught you retain some semblance of respect for the English language.
8) Format – Just before sending your manuscript off, change your font, spacing, tabs etc. to the format your publishers ask for. They are all different so do double check this. You don’t want your amazing story overlooked just because you didn’t send it in the right font?
Let me know if you think of anything else that should be included on this check list and of course don’t get hung up purely on the editing process – make sure that you keep writing. Your first draft is just that, a first draft. It will not be perfect. Even Hemingway said that ‘The first draft of anything is s**t’ – so dig up that diamond first, then polish it.
But how do you get that cracker of an idea in the first place? I feel a next blog coming on…