I’m deep in the throes of editing a book right now. It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s also a critical step in storytelling.
Ultimately, I think there are two levels in the editing process. Level 1 is The Narrative Flow. It’s the part where the story is really constructed. I analyze the story structure. I break it down scene by scene to see if the book has tension. I look at the characters and ask, “Are they vibrant and fully developed?”
Level 2 is The Scrub. This is where I look at the individual sentences and words themselves. I look for spelling errors, point of view shifts and all those lazy adverbs. I believe the Level 2 edit is what separates the professional from the amateur.
In editing my current project, I thought I’d share my checklist of “Things to Look For When Editing Your Manuscript.” I may add to the list as time goes by.
LEVEL 2 EDIT – THE SCRUB
1. Spell Check. Spell Check. Spell Check. You won’t believe the words I misspelled while cranking out my initial draft. It’s embarrasing. (See what I did there?) One of the most insightful, meaningful things my college English professor told me was, “Your story is almost as creative as your spelling.”
2. Circle Every Adverb. I’m not going to say that I’m publishing an adverb free book, but I will say that I’m rewriting 75% of the sentences that rely on adverbs to explain the emotion, rather than body language, facial expression or character action. Short descriptive sentences that convey emotion are far more interesting to read.
3. Circle Every “he said” and “she said.” Generally, this goes hand in hand with the adverbs, he said lazily. (See what I did there? Sometimes I amuse myself.) A constant stream of “said” gets monotonous. Worse, if the word appears over and over again on a page, it will distract the reader. I try to limit the “said” and replace it with a little snippet of character action. One of the best tricks in the book is to break-up a paragraph of description, and slowly reveal that info around the conversation.
4. Circle All Those Boring, Passive Sentences. You know the ones — where the subject doesn’t perform the action. Look for the culprits in front of the verb, such as “was,” “had been,” “are” and “were.” Delete them and release the verb. (Passive: The police had been tailing Andy for hours. Active: The police tailed Andy for hours. )
5. Circle Sentences Beginning with an ING word. Starting a sentence off with a gerund (a verb ending in ing) is a great way to break-up monotony in sentence patterns. However… most people (myself included) butcher the grammar. I often read sentences in amateur writing where the ING clause isn’t supported by the noun. (i.e. “Walking along the beach, two sharp stones cut my foot.” As written in that sentence, two sharp stones are walking along the beach. ) Another common error is a conflict in time — where the action in the opening clause is out of sync with the action happening in the main part of the sentence. (i.e. “Opening the front door, Thomas raced outside to greet them at the car.” Chronologically, Thomas opens the door THEN he runs outside. The way the sentence is written, he is opening the door and racing outside at the same time.) Grammar aside, sentences that begin with a gerund can read like Yoda-speak and break the narrative flow. Use sparingly.
6. Confirm the Point of View in Each Section. We all do this. The dominant point of view in a section is Character A, but in one paragraph — often one tied to dialogue — the point of view jumps to Character B. Character B sees something, thinks something, or feels something. Most people who are much smarter than I am will tell you that this creates confusion for the reader. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. It will, however, make your writing feel choppy and disjointed.
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