Editing Tips

When self-editing your novel there are a number of tips and tricks you can use to make the job that little bit easier.

1. Be Consistent

Writing a book is a long process that often spans years. During this period, it is easy for writers to lose track of some of the minor plot details.

It is vital that a writer makes every effort to maintain consistency throughout the writing process. The problem is that readers will notice mistakes.

If you tell your readers that a character has blue eyes in the opening chapter, and then six chapters later you say they are brown, the reader will remember.

My tip is to use character reference sheets. These are simply lists of the key aspects for all of your characters.

On these sheets you should record all the key facts - age, description, eye color etc. Include any details that might be important, such as relationships with other characters, home address and other details you develop. One additional tip is to get into the habit of updating your sheets as you build the characters.

2. Use Simple Grammar

Not all writers are grammar experts. In fact, the reality is that many writers struggle with grammar.

My tip is to keep it simple. The correct use of the period (full stop) and comma will get you out of most tough spots. Learning the rules of the correct use of the apostrophe is also crucial, as is the grammar/punctuation of speech.

However, beyond this you are getting onto dangerous ground. If you are unsure of the correct usage of the semi-colon, then don't use it (even if Microsoft Word insists otherwise).

This article will help you with formatting speech.

3. Formatting

Consistent formatting is an important, but often overlooked, part of editing.

By this we are talking about titles, subtitles, indenting, font etc. You need to pay attention to anything that appears on the page.

One way to get around inconsistencies is to use the 'style' function of your word processing package. Another way is to pay attention each time you start a new section, type in a header or change font. Being aware is half the battle.

4. Tense Usage

When talking to our editors the issue of tense was highlighted as a common problem.

The switching of tenses (past to present/present to past) is something that happens to all writers. It is for this reason that you must pay particular attention to this problem. 

5. Read Out Aloud

This is a tip that I think every editor worth their salt will pass onto writers. Once your work is completed, read it out aloud.

Personally, I use a software program called Ghostreader. This allows me to follow the text as the computer reads it out.

Reading your work out aloud will help you to spot silly mistakes but also the sentences that don't flow. Another tip is to print your work out and read it from paper. I am not sure why (something to do with screen resolution?) but this seems to help spot mistakes.

6. Be Harsh - Cut The Dead Wood

Cutting back is a vital and very powerful skill for writers to develop.

The foundation to the exercise should be for the writer to look at each section and ask 'do I need this?' Overly wordy sentences, extended paragraphs and repetition should all be removed.

In addition, ANY section that fails to move the plot forward should be cut. I have seen novels where whole characters have been removed. Cutting back the work is painful but if done correctly will improve your book tenfold.

7. Read Each Line As A Line, Then A Paragraph, Then A Section, Then A Chapter…

If you have carried out all the steps above, and you are happy with your novel, then it's time to start again. This time you need to go through the novel on a line-by-line basis.

You may find it helps to wait for a couple of weeks before you try to re-edit. This time around, you need to scrutinize each sentence in turn, fine-tuning as you go. Then, when finished, go back and look at the text paragraph by paragraph. Be critical. Next, examine each section, then chapter and so on…

[BONUS] More Self-editing Tips

Perhaps the biggest problem writers face when editing their own work is simply getting too close.

Even when holding the questions listed above in your mind, writers can still find it just too hard to detach themselves. However, this is understandable; in fact, I would go as far as saying this is essential.

The essence of any COPY edit is grammar and spelling but this is NOT an edit. An edit is so much more.

It is important that a writer avoid becoming obsessed with spelling. Yes, spelling is important, and yes, you must be as accurate as possible. However, grammar is just part of the puzzle. A good edit consists of all three questions listed above - spelling is just one aspect.

One potentially powerful option open to writers is to use friends and family to help with the edit.

My advice here is clear.

Firstly, be very precise with friends and family in just what you require from them. They can act as great proofreaders, but if this is the job you want them to carry out, then be clear. Tell them all you want is feedback on grammar and spelling only.

Secondly, be selective about what you implement from friends and family feedback. Even the best intentioned feedback can be damaging and ill advised. Be prepared to listen, but also be prepared to ignore. After all, it is your book.

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