So I did a blog post a long time back on editing, and you can read it here, but since things always change and style along with methods evolve as you go, I wanted to do another post about this topic.
In the other post I called editing writing's ugly cousin. It is. It's the necessary monster that's awaiting all of us at the end of every project. I said it before and I'll say it again-
YOU MUST EDIT YOUR BOOK.
Now when I say this, I don't mean read through it once to make sure the punctuation's correct. Editing is not a read through, it is a completely different evolutionary step in your book's life. Think of editing as taking your work to another plane of existence both in creativity as well as correction. So here are some tips that have helped me along the way so far in my career.
Most authors, myself included, say to take a break after finishing your first draft. This is good advice because you are too close to the story to make good decisions concerning any changes you'd like to make. With this said, I personally do a quick read through directly after finishing BUT, this is only to spot any obvious errors before I send it off to my editor. Secondly, my work goes through several passes and the time span between those passes allows for some perspective.
On the topic of professional editing I will say this: If you were going skydiving, would you want a professional dive instructor packing your chute for you before you left the ground, or would you trust someone who's done it once or twice? Or would you try to do it yourself? I know I would want a pro taking care of me if my life were at stake. The life of your book is no different. You want someone qualified to help you polish it and make it shine. You do not want to send your book out into the world with so many glaring errors that any reader that picks it up will put it down immediately. In my opinion professional editing is crucial.
Now, if your editor is good he or she will do a concept as well as a copy editing pass through your manuscript. Concept editing deals with the overall story- plot structure, character arc/development, and scene organization are just a few aspects of this portion. This is where you and your editor take a look at your book from a reader's point of view. Does the story make sense? Do the characters live and breathe? Do you need to lose a scene, gain one? This is where you put your book in the water and see if it floats. Copyediting deals with things like punctuation, sentence structure, POV consistency, tense agreement and whatnot. This is swabbing the deck and checking the rigging of your book after you see that it floats.
Another tactic that I've recently begun doing is using the search feature prior to beginning an overall edit. What that sometimes consists of is seeking out overused words.We all have our favorite words but at times they can become overbearing and distracting to the reader if used too much. Here is a list of overused words that I look for:
These words can sometimes be removed from a sentence completely or merely changed into another similar word that isn't used as much.
Glanced, looked, watched, and noticed are all words used as a segway into some sort of description (at least that's how I use them) such as Winston stopped and glanced around. The walls in the castle courtyard were high and topped with turrets made of rough-hewn stone. Now this isn't terrible and I think can be done from time to time, but really it sounds and works better to just change the segway like this: Winston stopped in the doorway. The walls in the castle courtyard were high and topped with turrets made of rough-hewn stone. Now you've taken out a needless character action and smoothed the transition over into a description. For me this reads better but YMMV.
Another thing to watch out for is needless dialogue tags. These are he/she said, or (insert your character's name) said. My rule on tags is if you can infer who is speaking in an exchange, don't put anything after the dialogue, it merely slows the reader down. Good dialogue flows and at times is like machine-gun fire. Adding the she/he said after every line is a great way to bog down the story.
After you've done a final edit on the book and everything looks good, read it out loud. Many authors do this and there's a reason why. You get to hear the cadence of the sentences, how dialogue actually sounds, whether it flows or if it's like a jerky ride in a rickety wagon. You'll be able to comb out more unnecessary words reading aloud and this is always a good thing.
So just for an example of my editing process, here it is-
- Quick read through to snag major errors.
- Concept editing pass by qualified editor.
- Beta reader input on overall story and plot.
- Make changes for overall story and plot.
- Copyediting pass by editor.
- Accept or deny final changes.
- Read aloud.
Now this works for me and it may not for you. Editing is writing's ugly cousin but they are related in that you'll have your own method. Overall, editing is a painful and needed aspect of writing. Do not shy away from it because it will always make your work stronger.
What I would like is for this post to be a reference point for editing as well as a pooling of ideas on how to edit better. If you've got a different set of problem words or way that you go about editing, please share them in the comments below and help grow a knowledge base that everyone can use.