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Friday, June 3, 2011

8 Tips for Better Self-Editing

Since I’ve been wading in the Sea of Revisions, I thought I’d share some of my editing tips. We all edit differently and I always find it interesting to hear how others do it. I thought you might, too. (Don’t tell me if I’m wrong.)

1. Read the manuscript aloud. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but for me it’s critical. That’s how I determine if the rhythm of the sentences or paragraphs is off. It’s also how I catch stupid typos when Microsoft Word lets me down. (I mean, are and our aren’t replaceable—even if they’re both spelled correctly.)

2. Take time away. Like a good rebound relationship, revisions work best after you’ve taken some time away from the game. There’s a 500 percent chance that a couple weeks or more away from your manuscript will make you a better editor. Also, that comprehensive critique will seem a lot less critical and much more helpful after you’ve digested everything.

3. Highlight all of the verbs. This will be tedious. I promise. But your work will be stronger for it. Take out that pretty yellow highlighter and mark up each and every verb. When you go back and review the highlights, look for any weak verbs and replace with stronger ones. Also check for verb-adverb constructions and change them to stronger verbs.

4. Circle all metaphors and similes. Check to make sure you’re using the correct metaphor or simile for your character. A character who spends his summers mowing laws would probably describe freshly mowed grass differently than someone who grew up in the city.

5. Cut any scene that isn’t furthering the plot, character arc or, better yet, both. You can preserve the BEST WRITING YOU’VE EVER DONE by copying and pasting it into a new document. Tell yourself you’ll add it back. Then read the scenes and pat yourself on the back for how much better the story sounds.

6. Make a pass for every character. Listen, each character should act as if they’re the main character of the story. Because to them, they are. In a story about me, the mechanic who works on my car is a side character. But I’m a side character in his story, too. Everyone is the main character of their own story.

7. Check for character voice. Paste a chunk of dialog into a new document. Remove the dialog tags. Can you tell the difference between characters from the dialog? Everyone speaks differently, and so should your characters. Make sure yours don’t all sound like the narrator.

8. Do a pass for first and lasts. Make sure the beginning and end of each chapter and scene stand out. These can get overlooked, but they should be handled with just as much care as you do the first and last line of the book.

That’s all for now. What are your self-editing tips?

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