(It’s a clever title, I know. I strive for the best!)
For some people editing is the bulk of their writing. They throw stuff down onto the “page” and then edit it into shape. For others, editing is the last stage—what they do just before sending their work off to a professional editor to put that true shine onto their words.
Which are you?
A lot of people who write without a net (otherwise known as “pantsers”), will write their story, getting everything down on the page. Once it’s complete, they’ll go back and see what they have, massaging it into a coherent story and add in everything that’s missing (more character development, more dialogue, more descriptions—whatever craft they know needs to be there). Once that’s done they’ll do those last few steps to get it ready for their editor (which I’ll discuss in detail below) and off it goes!
Er… I’m NOT one of those people.
I’m a plotter. I plan out my characters and my plot in as much detail as possible before I ever start writing. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t riff as I write. I usually start out with 15-20 scenes decided upon which show major character development and move the story through the big plot points and then, as I write, I’ll add more scenes as needed usually ending up with twice as many as I originally plotted.
But after I’m done writing, I’ve still got to go back and edit. This is what I look for and add in:
- Story structure
- Character development that shows my characters growing toward their internal goal
- Lots of delicious descriptions that pull the reader into the scene
- Deeper pov (thoughts and feelings shown as descriptively as possible)
- Five senses (which is part of those descriptions, but goes one step further)
- Conflict (making sure there is some conflict in just about every scene: also known as moving the reader, not the characters)
- Looking for ways where I can put the most enticing word in a sentence last or enticing sentence in a paragraph—called “backloading”. This pulls your reader to the bottom of the page
Once that level of writing is done, then it’s a matter of the practical stuff of editing:
- Passive voice (getting rid of it)
These can be done with the help of a program like Grammarly or Hemingway or ProWriting Aid (these are the three I’ve used).
The one thing I would strongly recommend you absolutely do, if nothing else, before sending your work off to a professional editor, is to put away your book. That’s right. Put it away into a virtual file folder on your computer and do something else for a few days or, preferably, a week or two. Some people prefer a month, but I don’t like to wait quite that long. I call it letting your book “gestate”.
As your words sit there fermenting in their own juices, your mind is doing something else. It’s forgetting about what you wrote. It’s moving on and thinking about something else. It’s developing other stories and getting to know other characters.
The point of this is that when the gestating period is over, you’ll be able to go back to it and read your book with clear eyes and a new outlook. You’ll see mistakes that you didn’t see before. You’ll notice that your characters aren’t behaving consistently or that there isn’t enough tension or something just isn’t quite right/believable/or doesn’t make sense.
For this read-through, I’ll read straight through, not stopping to make corrections, just making notes where corrections need to be made. This allows me to read the book as a reader would. I can get a feel for the story and see things that perhaps I didn’t see before (which can sometimes help with the writing of my book description later).
Are there any other things that you look for when you edit your book? Please share!
And don’t forget that no book should ever be released into the wild, cruel world of readers without being read by at least a professional editor and one or two (or five or six) other people who have never laid eyes on it before and who will tell you (honestly!!) what they think (because Mom or Dad saying, “That was wonderful, honey!” won’t help you write the best book you can write).