Friday, July 29, 2016

Self Editing for indie authors

Well, hello my neglected blog! My other job as editor has kept me busy these past few months, which is a reason but not a good excuse. 

This is me the editor by the way. Take a look, I offer reasonable rates and specialise in indie authors: 

There’s been personal drama and travel too – but this blog is not about that. It’s devoted to editing – more specifically, how to know when your manuscript is ready to send off to the editor.

Editors charge in differing ways. I charge by the 1000 words, but a lot of editors charge by the hour, so if your manuscript is full of simple errors the cost can mount to an eye-watering total. Apart from the potential cost, a manuscript that contains a lot of errors will take longer to correct, and you, the author, will have to wait longer for it to be completed. I don't know about you, but I hate waiting.

I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to clean up your manuscript before the editor sees it, to save time and money.

1) Continuity: Does Susan become Sandy halfway through the story? Do her eyes morph from blue to brown, and back to blue? Did James go to find Sandy and disappear into a black hole of author forgetfulness? Continuity, or the lack of it, is very common and easy to overlook.

2) Dialogue: When writing dialogue remember, a separate paragraph for each character. That applies even if the character reacts and does not speak.
“Shut up Simon!” Larissa shouted.
Simon compressed his lips and turned away from her.
“Don’t turn your back on me!” She wiped angry tears away, glaring at his back.
“You said to shut up.” There was nothing in his tone to indicate the anger that held his back stiff.

3) Dialogue tags: It can be boring writing dialogue tags – he said, she said. You start wanting to add some variety. A little bit here and there is ok, although some will say you should never do more than he said, she said. Do remember though that people express emotions with words and tone, they don’t say emotions. If you want variety in your dialogue tags, try using actions:
“You’re such an idiot.” Larissa dropped onto the couch in disgust.
“Because I won’t agree with you?” Simon turned to face her, his tone was still level but his expression was volcanic.
Remember that if your dialogue is between two people and easy to follow you don’t need dialogue tags:
“I don’t want you to agree with me, I want you to understand me!”
“But Larissa, your logic is unfathomable, how can I understand you?”
Simple words like he said, she said, are invisible to the reader. It means the reader can focus on what he or she should be focused on – your cracker of a story, so don’t be afraid to use them.  

4) Redundancies: Check for redundancies, like dialogue tags that are not necessary. Look for other redundancies, like, ‘she nodded her head’ (what else is she going to nod?), ‘the shot killed him and he fell down dead’ (if the shot killed him he is most definitely dead, no need to say it again). Keep your writing as economical as possible.

5) Adverbs: They have their place, but that place is occasional. Most of the time adverbs can be eliminated. Sometimes they can be deleted without having any effect on the sentence because adverbs are often redundant words. At other times the sentence can be rewritten to avoid the adverb, which will give you a stronger sentence. I once read a book where the author was trigger happy with ‘immediately’ and ‘suddenly’. By the end of that book, I swore I would never again write either word.
Instead of, ‘He immediately saw her eyes flash with anger’, try, ‘It was impossible to miss the flash of anger in her eyes’. Compare, ‘She stood up suddenly and glared at him’, with, ‘Surging to her feet, she glared at him’.

6) Misplaced modifiers: Misplaced modifiers are words that are incorrectly separated from the word they are describing. Read your work out loud, either to yourself or to someone else. Nothing highlights misplaced modifiers like reading out loud. ‘I saw an accident walking down the street’, ‘he wore a cap on his head, that was clearly too small’. Say them out loud and you’ll hear it.

7) Storyline: Sounds obvious, right? As the writer you know all the backstory, but you haven’t put it all in the book – at least I hope you haven’t. So you know things about your characters the reader doesn’t know. That can lead to inconsistencies in the story. Read your manuscript, paying attention to the storyline to make sure it can be followed, it makes sense, and there are no vital parts of information left out. If your heroes are stranded on a planet and have no oxygen, but you know your main character has evolved to be able to change the atmosphere to oxygen, you have to make sure the reader knows that too. By all means, hold back the information to add tension to the story, but do remember to tell the reader eventually.

8) Loose ends: Sometimes a minor character or story thread can be forgotten and left loose. The reader never finds out why Marshall was so secretive about the bottom left desk drawer – what was in it? Antonia went in search of a cure for Zack’s persistent allergy to her cat and then the cat vanishes from the story and Antonia never does say how her search went. Did she give away the cat? Did Zack overcome his allergy?
If a story thread is introduced, make sure it is followed to completion, or if it becomes redundant to the story, delete it.

9) Filler words: We are all guilty of using them. Filler words are words such as: just, very, that, really, so, well, as, like. I use so and well too much. Learn your filler words and delete as many as are not needed.

10) Pet words: Like filler words, we all have pet words that we love to utilise. I use the adverb clearly too much, and there are plenty of others. When you read your manuscript look for words you use frequently and replace them with alternatives.

11) Repetition: Repetition can be as easy to spot as using the same word twice in a single sentence. Repetition is also saying the same thing two different ways in the same paragraph. Read carefully, and delete repetitive sentences. If you said that Sandy was sitting in her cubicle at work, and she hasn’t left it, you don’t need to repeat where she is. If you’ve already explained that she sits near Max the suspect and can hear his phone conversations you don’t need to say it again. The reader already knows.

12) Paragraphs: Paragraphs give structure to a story. There should be a separate paragraph for each character in dialogue. Short paragraphs keep the reader’s eye moving faster down the page so are good for action. Longer paragraphs are good for reflective scenes. However, paragraphs should be structured so that topics flow naturally and not too much is crammed into one.  

Taking the time to self-edit before sending your work to me, or to another editor, helps both you and me. And self-editing is an excellent way to become a better writer. And becoming a better writer is something we work on our entire career.

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