In the last two sections of “Edit the Blasted Book,” there will be some repetition. My father, a Superintendent of Schools, always said it took three repetitions for an idea to sink in, so forgive me if I’ve emphasized some of these points before.
Note 1: Because of the length of this blog, I have left out examples. Please feel free to use Comments or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ask questions about anything you don’t understand (or want to tell me I got wrong!)
Note 2: The "Anatomy of an Edit" below is based on the way I write and edit. I certainly don’t claim it’s the only way, but it’s worked for me through more than a quarter century of writing (since word processing came along), and I hope my process will give you some idea of just how much time (beyond the initial input) must be devoted to your work before it will be ready for publication. As a long-time contest judge, all too often I see entries where the author appears to have dashed off the work, done no editing, no proofreading, and just sent it off, evidently assuming his/her first draft was perfect.
Wrong! Writing is WORK. You may be able to do it in your PJs/caftan/sweat suit and slippers, but it’s still a job. A hard, demanding job, requiring hours of work beyond the simple act of typing words onto a screen. Below, see my personal “Anatomy of an Edit.”
I - THE FIRST TIME AROUND
A. The “Nuts & Bolts” of Editing
1. Edit at the end of every chapter. (If you just keep going and going and going, you are going to face such a massive editing job you’ll end up being overwhelmed and careless in your edits. You will be in danger of leaving out entire characters and/or situations that might have been born if you had edited chapter by chapter, allowing your book to gradually expand into sub-plots, more complex characters, more color, etc.)
Being of the old school, I prefer to do my editing on hardcopy. Seeing the words on paper seems to inspire me to more creative additions. But if you feel you can edit well on screen, that’s fine. (You might, however, try editing hardcopy just to see if the editing process works better for you that way.)
Special note: check your Header. I recently received a contest entry with a typo in the header, which was repeated, of course, on every page!
2. Run Spell Check on the entire chapter. (Option: since I print hardcopy at the end of every scene, I run Spell Check scene by scene.)
3. Itemized Nuts & Bolts. As you read over your chapter, your mind may boggle over all the things you need to look for. I promise you, it becomes easier with experience. Here’s a list - and I’m sure many more items could be added. Look for:
a. Typos not caught by Spell Check, plus missing or “extra” words.
b. Errors in grammar or punctuation. We all make them in the heat of the moment, but make an effort to straighten these out as you go along. Dangling participles can be particularly tricky.
c. Use italics, not underlines. Underlines are pre-word processing. (Unless you insist on using Courier - a 19th c. font! in which case underlines are necessary as italics don’t show up well.)
d. Watch out for awkward sentences. (It made perfect sense when you wrote it, but re-reading shows it is confused, convoluted, or maybe downright weird.)
e. Lack of color. Did you write a “vanilla” sentence, barely more than an outline of what you were thinking? Do you need more colorful adjectives, more dramatic verbs? Did you toss off a Big Moment with just a sentence or two, instead of giving it the detailed drama it deserved?
f. Little Fixits. Perhaps your sentence needs only one new word, perhaps an exchange of phrases (a swift “reverse”), or the removal of an extraneous “and” or “that” to read more smoothly.
g. Did you obscure your point in too many words? Can you find a way to say the same thing more clearly and dramatically, using less words, less repetition?
h. Did you write “bare bones,” little more than an outline of what you had in your head? Do you need to expand a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, to make it more clear, give it impact, paint a more colorful portrait?
i. At the end of each scene, particularly at the end of each chapter, has your story moved forward? Or did you get caught up in cute social chitchat or a long description that took the story nowhere?
j. Did you put a Hard Page End at the end of your chapter? I find it difficult to believe how many people are still “carriage-returning” (Entering) to get to the next page. Which does not allow for any insertions or deletions without moving the title of the next chapter all over the page. Basic manuscript rules: Always use a Hard Page End. Always begin a new chapter on a new page. [Hard Page End: Use Insert - Break or, easier, Control + Enter.]
Repeat of an Apocryphal Tale: If an editor has two books of similar quality - good story, good writing, appealing characters - but one is almost perfectly presented (good spelling, grammar & punctuation, well-researched facts) and the other is going to require many hours of work by both an editor and a copy editor, as well as the publisher’s money to pay for their time, which book do you think the editor is going to choose?
B. Editing in Depth - the Harder Stuff
1. Opening. Does your opening grab the reader and hang on for dear life? Did you spend time crafting your first sentence until it was a real zinger? Are your opening pages attention-grabbing without failing to give us an idea of who the characters are?
2. Setting. Have you painted a good backdrop for your story? Have you let your readers know whether you are in the country, city, house, condo, US, Europe, etc.? Have you made clear the approximate date? (A Location and Date line above the body copy can do wonders here.) Have you written enough description so your characters aren’t talking heads, speaking against a blank canvas? However you handle Setting, don’t leave your readers in the dark.
3. Characters. Readers want to love the hero and heroine, empathize with them, root for them. If your h/h have negative characteristics, then you must find a way to justify them, explain. Because without likable main characters - or the surety of their redemption - you have nothing. Readers also expect clear identifications and physical descriptions. These descriptions also apply to all but the least important secondary characters as soon as they are introduced. (All too often I see contest entries where the author described setting, characters, and plot in the synopsis and failed to put this information in the manuscript. Please keep in mind that readers never see the synopsis. Everything you want the reader to know must be in the pages of the manuscript.)
Take one more look: Did you give the heroine 90% of the Point of View and leave the Hero's thoughts a mystery (Or vice versa)?
4. Conflict. Does your story have internal and external conflict for both hero and heroine? In other words, do they have personal conflict from past or present events, and at the same time, do they have outside forces giving them a hard time? The outside force can be something they are facing together (as in most romantic suspense plots), or it can be a separate outside problem each must face.
5. Dialogue. Did you go all lopsided on Dialogue because it’s easier to write? None of that pesky introspection or having to describe a setting or an action scene or something as simple as the hero mounting his horse? If so, no matter how clever or cute your dialogue, you don’t have a classic romance, because Romance requires the hero and heroine to “agonize” over their problems. They have to have doubts, black moments, etc. This doesn’t work too well in just dialogue. If you try it, it usually sounds contrived. Angst, agonizing, great joy, and love scenes work far better in Narration.
6. Narration. As in Dialogue, don’t overdo it. Pages and pages of narration without dialogue can become deadly. Readers expect a pretty even balance between Dialogue & Narration. Also: stick to third person for introspection, leaving first person italic insertions for emphasis. (Unless, of course, you’re writing the whole book in first person!) Whatever you do, do not have your characters talk to themselves - this is a red flag of amateur writing. Express your characters’ thoughts as third person introspection.
7. Plot. Is your plot adequate for whatever length book you are writing? I.e., if you’re writing a novella, you probably won’t have any sub-plot(s). You’ll also have less secondary characters. But if you’re writing a full-length novel, you will need something more than boy meets girl, they fall in love, they break up, they reconcile & live HEA. Does your plot have enough “meat” to fill out a 75,000-100,000 word book without adding meaningless padding? If not, you need to add some additional colorful (comedic, dramatic, villanious, etc.) characters and sub-plot.
Take one more look: do your opening pages sound like a romance when you’re really writing a thriller? A comedy when it’s romantic suspense you had in mind? Be sure you provide clues right from the beginning so your readers won’t get a sudden nasty surprise, discovering this is a different book than they thought they spent their good money on.
8. Style. Have you put your sentences together with style? Arranged your sentences into intriguing paragraphs? Polished your paragraphs into a cohesive whole?
Have you given your hero and heroine clear points of view, sticking with the story through each pair of eyes for a reasonable length of time before making a switch? If you use more than two points of view, have you made the switches sterling clear, right there at the beginning of the switch and continuing in the new POV for a reasonable length of time? Never forget the rule: Thou Shalt Not Head-hop!
Does your style "Show" instead of "Tell"? Have you burrowed right inside the head of each Point of View character and made us see what they see, feel what they feel, hear what they hear? Or - oh horrors! - did you, as author, stand on the outside of the story and "tell" us what is happening. You might have thought you're an updated version of the ancient storyteller, but in today's romances, even more important than "Thou shalt not head-hop" is the rule: Show your story, don't tell it!
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NO! This is absolutely, positively not the end.
Don’t you dare quit editing just because this is where today’s blog runs out!
NEXT BLOG - the final installment: EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK, Part 6 - Anatomy of an Edit, Part 2
Thanks for stopping by.
For a list of my available books as Blair Bancroft (and links to Kindle, Nook & Smashwords), please see my website, www.blairbancroft.com