Thursday, 22 January 2009

Editing Tips, or, Things I Need to Watch For

I offered to edit a manuscript for a blog friend of mine just before Christmas. Over the last month I've been working on it quite a bit. My husband wonders if my time wouldn't be better spent working on my own manuscript, but since I started reading through the book, I realized I was working on mine at the same time.

As I read through the book the first time, I became quite aware of the flow of the story and how the plot lines wove together. I ended up with two notebooks next to the computer. One with detailed notes about the manuscript I was working on, and another with brief notes reminding me to check on the same problems in my own work. After a second slower read through, I realized I was learning more about good writing in general.

Some of the things I caught that I need to go back and check for in my own are:
  • Repeated words. Sometimes it is so easy to use the same word over and over again without even realizing it. After all, a dance is a dance. But with careful rewriting the same section can be written to use the words fewer times and will actually be more interesting to read. There are also an author's 'pet' words. As I read over mine this afternoon, I realized I use the words 'really' and 'finally' way too often. I have some work to do there.
  • Show don't tell. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of just telling the story. In some ways it is more natural since that is how we often tell others about the things that happen in our lives.
  • Dialogue. Written dialogue doesn't sound like spoken dialogue. When we talk to others we often throw in words like, 'uh', 'oh', 'um', but when those are used in a story, they slow down the flow of the conversation.
  • Include all the important information. Often when I tell a story, I forget to put all the necessary facts in. I know all the background and forget that the reader doesn't. Sometimes I reread what I've written, I realize there are big holes that will leave the reader confused.
These are all reasons why it is a good thing first drafts aren't published and every book goes through multiple revisions. Working on this friend's manuscript was a great exercise for me and makes me even more anxious to get a critique group going. But that's another post for another day.


Josi said...

These would be my top points for every writer too--it is amazing how much you learn by critically reading someone elses work.

Anonymous said...

I have a pet word that drives everyone crazy - it's "quite".

"I'll be quite put out"
"That's quite enough of that"

it's a Brit-ism that I just can't shake. So I know that I must do a find/replace on everything I write, because I'm quite sure it will be in there. (lol)It's good to know your own foibles.

ali said...

Those are excellent tips Stephanie! And how cool that your time editing another's ms has been beneficial to your own writing too. In fact, it probably was a real blessing because you might not have noticed those things while working with your own ms if the other hadn't opened your eyes to the potential problem.


Rebecca Talley said...

My words are "just" and "look." Great advice!

I noticed a very popular writer's pet word was "flicked" and by the end of the book it drove me nuts! So it's important we check for repeated words so we don't drive our readers crazy.

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