Editing is demanding, frustrating, and essential to good novels (and short stories, and news pieces, and flash fiction, and…). Regardless of whether or not you work with a professional editor, self-editing bridges your first draft (which should be awful if you’re a good person) to your finished work. But where do you start, and how do you tie all those loose ends together?
Sooner or later, everyone loses track of a character. Maybe it’s a minor player. Maybe it’s a secondary love interest. Regardless, dropped and vanished characters (and their story lines) make the top ten list of things readers hate.
As you go through early edits, write a list of characters. As their stories close, take note. You’ll need three columns. Feel free to make a spreadsheet if that’s your thing. Each character needs their motivation, relevance to the overall plot, and story exit clearly listed. You may discover superfluous cast you need to lay off as you streamline. On the other hand, a dropped character may return to solve a critical plot hole.
Set Up and Delivery
Figure out what your book wants to say. Write down the types of drama you set up in the beginning – the loaded guns on the mantel. As you fire those weapons, list how the expectation has been satisfied. Doing this for individual chapters and scenes helps, too, especially if you don’t go in for a lot of outlines.
Read Out Loud
As you move towards proofreading, you’ll find the words blur. You’ve read this story before. Many times. Some bits you repeat in your dreams. That familiarity with your work hampers accurate reading, but simply reading aloud helps your brain shift gear, peeling the scales from your eyes.
Remember, although you’re reading out loud, you don’t have to treat your draft as a performance piece. Whispering works perfectly well, and it’s easier on your throat. Still, it’s a good idea to work with a glass of water on hand.
Search Common Typos
This isn’t your first rodeo, even if it’s your first novel. Knowing your weaknesses gives you an advantage. Do you replace “definitely” with “defiantly?” Maybe you struggle with it’s/its or where/wear/were. Even if you don’t know the mistakes you most often make, a long list of common typos is only a Google search away.
Take that list and plug it in your chosen word processor’s “find” feature. Danger zones appear, tidily highlighted for your editing pleasure.
When in doubt, don’t do “that.” It’s a clutter word that drags great prose and affects professional appraisal of your story. Again, the search function is your friend. You may be surprised how often it pops up in your writing.
On a professional note: it’s always a good idea to hire an editor, even after self-editing. Even professional editors hire other editors to edit their work, because they know how valuable a trained opinion can be. There are editors who specialize in self-published and new writer work – often for reduced prices. So, consider that investment before washing your hands of your current project.
What self-editing tricks do you use? Which one do you most wish you knew when you started writing? Share your ideas with other writers below!