Following on from last week’s introduction to Editing post, here are another 5 tips to get you on the road to a polished, professional manuscript. If you didn’t read Part 1, you can find it here.
1 Deliver all your promises.
Every twist and turn in your plot must have a resolution. Every mystery, conundrum and puzzle must have an answer. Make sure there are no loose threads by the end of the book. Your reader expects you to come through. Don’t disappoint by offering a tantalising twist with no payoff.
2 Check for contradictions
Writing a book is a long process, sometimes a years-long process, and it’s easy to forget your fictional facts. The organised among us writers will make notes for themselves as they go, but for the majority of writers, it’s more like taking a trip without a camera. Read through carefully when you start your edit, especially regarding timeline and dates, to ensure there are no hitches. You can retro-fix almost anything. Just because you put it in, doesn’t mean you can’t change it or take it out again.
3 Double-check historical or scientific facts
If you’re writing a thriller, historical or science based book, you have to know, or at least appear to know, all your facts. Anachronisms, guesses and make-believe will lose you credibility. If you’re writing a WWI novel and your characters are using WWII technology, chances are your reader will pick it up and no longer believe in the story. Or you. Do the research. Check your facts. This is your job, not the agent or publisher’s.
Every scene should have a purpose, whether it’s to move the plot along, add light relief, explain something or develop your character(s) and their relationship. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to write scenes that don’t do any of those things. The hard part is to be brutally honest and courageous when assessing a scene and its value. You might be able to salvage a pointless scene by giving it purpose, or joining it (or parts of it) with another scene, but if not then it needs to come out.
The same principle applies to sentences. These are harder to identify. They can be repetitions of something you’ve already said, superfluous dialogue or asides that don’t add anything to the matter in hand. Or maybe they should appear somewhere else in the book? Be vigilant when reading through, and, for each sentence, ask yourself if it really needs to exist there, or at all.
Be brave. Winnow out the chaff.
5 Each and every word should be the right one and be spelled correctly.
Sounds obvious, but many authors think spelling, typos or grammatical errors will be pardoned by whoever reads their book. Some even think it’s the publisher’s job to spell check for them. All it does is get their work dumped on the slush pile. Most spelling mistakes can be fixed by the software’s spell-checker but there are words which can’t be dealt with this way. If so, head straight to the internet.
In addition, each word you use should be considered for its individual weight and merit.This means you have to go through your work and assess every word you’ve written, check its spelling (and meaning) and decide if it deserves a place in your book. Be sure you are using the correct spelling for your version of English (UK/US). Or at least use one version consistently. If you have made the word up (or a name), put it into your WP directory so you don’t accidentally change the spelling later in the book.
To assess your words for their merit, try the following check list.
- Does this sentence make sense without that word? (If so, cut it out.)
- If I change the sentence around can I eliminate that word without changing the context? (Clumsy sentence structure?)
- Am I using the most effective word to describe what I mean? (Is there a better one?)
- Does keeping that word in mean I have to use other words to keep the sentence grammatical? (If so, is there a better sentence structure or word I can use?)
With practice, this process becomes automatic, if not subconscious, so you can do it without thinking about it.
Editing is a long, laborious, boring and excruciating process, but one which, by the end, produces a polished, publishable, readable and worthy novel. Don’t be put off. Your book deserves it.