There are all types of edits, both professional and self-editing. With the growing number of Los Angeles area writers’ groups and self-published books, professional editing takes on a new importance.
Many authors opt to publish without running their book past an editor and the results are not always good. In my opinion, this professional view is essential and by the time the editor gets the manuscript it should be what you consider your best effort. That means best for spelling and punctuation, and best for content.
But I read my manuscript so many times…
First of all, it is important to spot those nasty faux pas that somehow manage to sneak past your critical scrutiny. You need to be able to look at your manuscript through fresh eyes. Let it get cold then do a read through. Even better, have someone read it to you or record it yourself and listen to the playback. Somehow the spoken word points out errors, repetitions and just plain boring sequences that the eye misses. Have you ever listened to an audio book by a best-selling author only to be put off by how often the narrator says he said, she said, they said, I said, we said… Many of those offending, and usually unnecessary, ‘said’ tags could have been eliminated or clarified by using character traits or speech patterns instead. There is no way of skipping past them when listening.
Speaking of things the eye misses, how many times have you read over a manuscript multiple times only to miss double words, missing words or misspellings? Again, that’s because the eye sees what it thinks it sees—particularly if it’s your own work. You know what it’s supposed to say. That’s why it is so helpful to work with a critique group, and there are many in Los Angeles. Just check www.meetup.com if you don’t know where to find one. An alternative is to solicit a trusted friend who likes the genre of your work. Looking at the printed word is a different experience than reading it on the computer. We are so married to our computers, sometimes we don’t bother to print a manuscript. Do yourself a favor. Print it and read it through.
Some blatant offenders
Syntax (the structure of the sentence) is a frequent offender, joined by wrong sequence of events, point of view violation (the character relating or seeing something they couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination), run-on sentences and unnecessary verbs and adverbs. Ask whether your characters are speaking in the right voice for their age and circumstances. The five-year-old sounded just right when he was five, but he won’t sound the same at twelve. The guy who didn’t finish high-school probably won’t use “fifty dollar words” unless he pursued lots of self-education after leaving school, profanity has to fit the character—not be thrown in for shock value alone. And it goes on. Editing guidelines fill whole books and many of them. E is for Editing only hits on some fine points like all of the topics in my upcoming book, Writers Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About Writing Fiction, targeted for release late this year.
Machete editing and how-to books
Have you ever heard of “machete editing?” I took a workshop of that name several years ago and it changed the way I look at finalizing my work. A machete cuts out the deadwood and hacks a path to a destination. Your machete should cut out unnecessary elements and tighten the work unless that word, scene, description, etc. serves the function of leading the reader to another plateau—an interesting road to the final destination which is the end of your manuscript. Don’t overburden your work with roadblocks because you could slow the action and lose the reader in the process.
There are a wealth of full length books about self-editing on the market. My advice is to choose one that speaks in plain language, gives understandable examples and be sure to try some of the recommended exercises. Here is an example with easy-to-find errors: Mary said, “The most anoying part of that frightening, scary, mind-boggling, life-threatening expereince that Jan said that she she had was that in the way she told it I didn’t believe her story about it.” Poorly written? You bet! Clean it up and see how much better it sounds. Catch the spelling errors, too.
MORGAN ST. JAMES, is the co-author of the award-winning Silver Sisters Mysteries. Watch for the third comical crime caper, Vanishing Act in Vegas, due out late this year. She also wrote Devil’s Dance and The Devil’s Due as Arliss Adams and has many short stories in anthologies under both names. Her Writers Tricks of the Trade column appears in the Los Angeles edition every Friday and the Las Vegas edition every Thursday.
For more information about Morgan, or to purchase autographed copies of her books, visit www.morganstjames-author.com