Conference 2012 - Self-Editing – getting the balance right
Report published 31 July 2012
Nell emphasised there is no right or wrong way to write or to edit. Many writers get bogged down in the first few chapters. She advised putting these in a file, so they can’t be overworked.
Beware not to edit out your voice and creativity. Leave the manuscript for as long as possible before editing and, on your first read through, do not touch the manuscript, just make notes on a separate sheet. Leave specifics until later, first edits need to concentrate on emotional layers. Changing font or transferring to Kindle can help to view the book objectively.
The “hit list” for editing includes:-
• be consistent with character description and in spelling, especially names
• check character location is always obvious
• watch word echoes, overuse of phrases and tense hopping
• check point of view (if your character can’t see it, you can’t describe it)
• eliminate most occurrences of ‘that’ and don’t substitute ‘which’ or ‘it’
• avoid ‘he/she fests’
• remove instances of ‘–ing’ and ‘was – ing’
• use the strongest sentence you can, generally not in the passive voice
• remove most dialogue tags
• watch adverb use
• remove –ly words
• be alert for plot holes/arcs, e.g. the 18 month pregnancy
• examine for disappearing characters, children or pets
• make sure story arcs reach natural conclusions
• avoid personality transplants, be consistent or explain changes
• make a list of your favourite words and check for overuse, e.g. just, looked, feel, felt, found, herself, seem, appeared
• check repetition, beating the reader over the head with information and overuse of a favourite description
Tackle punctuation and spelling last. Nell works backwards for her final sweep of the manuscript, one paragraph at a time! Remember that the last chapter will sell your next book, as it is what the reader remembers.
Nell stressed the importance of checking publisher guidelines and reading publisher’s other titles to check the house style. Bear in mind the markets to which the book will be sold, but keep your spellings British even for an American publisher. Watch out for words and phrases which have different meanings in other countries, e.g. funky, means smelly in America.
As most readers have a level of English equivalent to last year of primary school, books tend to be becoming more action led, almost like television dramas.
Aids for editing include Wordle and Smart Edit.
Ask a test reader to highlight points where they are jerked out of your story. Examine the emotional impact of each paragraph and ensure the blackest moment is black enough. Aim to make your editor laugh and cry.
The message received by a reader is the message you sent, so if the reader is unclear it is your fault.
In conclusion, Nell stressed that editing should make your voice come alive. Stop editing when you became heartily sick of your book. She gave us a useful hand out which included an editor’s point of view. A very informative session.
Written by Jayne Hall