Thursday, February 06, 2014

Putting Those Pesky Edits to Bed

As an author, the absolute worse part of the writing process for me is the edits.  Not so much the editing and revision before I submit my novel to the publisher but the rounds of edits after the book is accepted for publication.

Too often we’re precious about our words because we think a sentence sounds great as it is but what we’re doing in effect is adding superfluous words.  I was going to add a ‘just’ to that last sentence but it wasn’t necessary!  See what I mean?

This is written assuming you’ve gone right through your story to check for any plot errors and inconsistencies first, the plot is tight, there are no obstacles that stop it flowing from A to B and you’ve spell checked, then these are the other things you need to watch out for.

So before you even think of submitting your work anywhere contemplate the following, as it will save more work with your editor in the long run:

1.  Omit useless words and phrases like ‘just’, ‘felt’, too many ‘that’s, ‘so’s, ‘exact replica’, ‘attach together’, ‘added bonus’ etc.  They add nothing to your work and are often used as fillers.  

2.  Watch out for overuse of modifiers.  These lessen the impact of your prose.  Words to watch out for are: obviously, positively, utterly, probably, quite, simply, really, etc.  To strengthen the sentence leave them out.  For example, “She was utterly beautiful” might sound fine but “She was beautiful” is stronger.  There are occasions when you might need to use them but use sparingly is the best rule of thumb.

3.  Are you telling and not showing?  ‘Showing’ is to demonstrate emotions, actions and dialogue via the story, bringing it to life.  ‘Telling’ is doing what it says, the story is lifeless.  Here’s an example.  Telling: She looked very angry and wanted him to leave the house. Showing: Her heart beat a tattoo as she gritted her teeth and balled her hands into fists at her side.  “Get out of here now!”  She pointed toward the door.

4.  Have you repeated yourself too much?  This can slow down the story and makes it monotonous as the reader thinks: “I’ve already read that once!”  Ensure you delete any repetitive words and phrases.  I once read a novel by a best-selling author that used the same phrase in one sentence.  It was: “She rolled her eyes!”  She rolled her eyes and then she rolled her eyes some more?

5.  Why use lots of words when a couple of words will do?  Some authors love using grandiose words and phrases.  They think flowery language will impress the reader.  Unfortunately, all that happens is the reader gives up reading as it slows the book down to a snail’s pace.  Who wants to read a book with a dictionary by their side?

6.  There is a thought that it’s possible to edit about 20 % out of a manuscript and it will still be readable.  That’s one fifth, a sizable amount.  An editor requested I remove 4000 words from one novel and it made for a tighter read in the end.

7.  Avoid clichéd writing.  A cliché is a well-known saying that has slipped into our everyday vocabulary.  For example, ‘He had an axe to grind’, ‘She was worth her weight in gold’.  If I write something like those examples I try to find an original way to say the same thing instead when it comes to the edit.

8.  Avoid passive voice. In sentences written in passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb; the subject is acted upon.  An example of this is: 'We were invited by our friends to their wedding'.  To make it active voice, change it to: ‘Our friends invited us to their wedding.’

9.  Check your tenses.  It’s easy to slip into the wrong tense, sometimes past to present and vice versa. 

10.  When in doubt delete.  Don’t become so attached to your work that you can’t delete.  If I’m stuck on a paragraph and I try rearranging the words and it still doesn’t work, I often delete the sentence so the paragraph makes sense.  Sometimes less is more.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. I felt this was written just for me. jim

Lynette said...

Glad you found it helpful, Jim! :)