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book editing


As you proofread your manuscript, there are several things you can do to make your process easier. Here are a few commonly recommended tips:

Print a copy of the novel and mark it up.

Having a hard copy in front of you allows you to work with your draft on something other than your laptop or desktop screen. You’ll want your printout to be double-spaced so you have plenty of room to make edits.

Be consistent in your marks.

A question mark might indeed convey the appropriate emotion when you find passages that don’t make sense, or where the pacing drags, or where there’s a glaring plot hole or a character who seems to act out of character. But a question mark doesn’t really help you recognize one problem from the next when looking back over your notes. Be specific and consistent in your marginalia, coming up with a clear method for identifying and distinguishing types of problems you encounter. You’ll of course want to keep a legend of some sort to help you keep the marks straight. Or, you might want to include these in the master document you make below.

Make a style guide.

Create your own proofreading checklist on Microsoft word or google docs or some other word processing program and follow these guidelines every time you proofread your writing. Keep a list of the types of mistakes you commonly make and then refer to that list each time you proofread.

Publishers always create a style guide in which they make clear the stylistic, structural, and occasionally substantive needs for the project. You might want to make a master guide of your own, divided into different word spellings (like there their and they’re) that many people have difficulty distinguishing between.

If you don’t feel confident creating your own style guide, there are lots of great style handbooks that can help clear up questions, such as whether a certain word is capitalized, or if you need to hyphenate a specific phrase or adjective.

Developing your own stylebook can enhance your database of writing knowledge!

Keep track of problems as they occur to you.

If you realize some problem or inconsistency in the novel, though it’s not part of the proofreading process,  you’re currently working on, don’t file it away in your head and promise to come back later; find an appropriate place on your style guide to note the problem immediately, while you still recognize and understand what the problem is.

Keep a sharp mind during this proofing stages and keep a good attitude. Revision shouldn’t be considered drudge work or punishment for writing a novel. It is an opportunity to see your work in a new way. Remember that by now you have rewritten this draft several times and that your vision of the story has been sharpened and is getting closer to the perfect volume you wanted to create from the beginning.

Give it a rest.

If time allows, set your text aside for a few hours (or days) after you’ve finished composing, and then proofread it with fresh eyes. Rather than remember the perfect paper you meant to write, you’re more likely to see what you’ve actually written.

  • Look for one type of problem at a time.

Read through your text several times, concentrating first on sentence structures, then word choice, then spelling, and finally punctuation.

  • Read your text aloud.

Or better yet, ask a friend or colleague to read it aloud. You may hear a problem (a faulty verb ending, for example, or a missing word) that you haven’t been able to see.

  • Use a spellchecker.

The spellchecker can help you catch repeated words, reversed letters, and many other common slip ups–but it’s certainly not goof-proof.

  • Trust your dictionary.

Your spellchecker can tell you only if a word is a word, not if it’s the right word. For instance, if you’re not sure whether sand is in a desert or a dessert, visit the dictionary (or our Glossary of Commonly Confused Words).

  • Read your text backward. Another way to catch spelling errors is to read backward, from right to left, starting with the last word in your text. Doing this will help you focus on individual words rather than sentences.
  • Watch for punctuation!
  •  Look for repetition

A common mistake that new authors make is repetition with a certain word or phrase. So watch for repeated word use, and utilize a thesaurus to find other means to relate what you have to say as needed.

Keep an eye on the big picture

When it comes to editing, be consistent!

Watch for errors that can pop up throughout the book, such as a different tense or style that may seem jarring and out of place if it contradicts with the rest of your writing style. Add this to your personal style book!Above all else, ask for help!

You don’t have to go it alone! Ask a teacher, utilize high level and strategic coaching, or enlist the help of a partner publisher.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Here it is, August, and together we have gone a long way down the editing process. If you have come this far with me, you have worked through the major aspects of content editing. You have looked at the macro-editing stage. You have looked at the story as a complete project. We have looked at the story scene by scene. Today, we turn a corner into the micro-proofreading stage. In this stage, we break things down into individual paragraphs and sentences and word choices. In this stage you will begin to do the following:

  1. Cut down on long sentences.
  2. Check your commas with that and which When used as a descriptor, the word “which” takes a comma. But the word “that” doesn’t. For example: “We went to the house that collapsed yesterday” or “We went to the house, which collapsed yesterday.” Confused about when to use “that” vs. “which?
  3. Avoid using “ing” words like I was starting to. . . .
  4. Don’t be too formal, use contractions
  5. Eliminate there is and there are at the beginning of sentence.
  6. Refer to people with who not that
  7. Use stronger verbs “Make” is sometimes used in the same way as “start to,” in place of what could be a stronger verb.
  8. Eliminate very and really and other ly adverbs. Replace with stronger verbs.
  9. Replace “thing” with a better word
  10. Avoid using “that”
  11. Don’t use “start to”
  12. Cut “in order to”
  13. Reduce prepositions
  14. Remove redundancies
  15. Replace ornate words with simple ones
  16. Remove extra punctuation

Now, before you continue, pat yourself on your back. You’re just a few weeks away from having a completed manuscript!

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Now, while you’re still viewing your novel for content, read your novel through one more time and look at it through the eyes of your ideal reader.

Your Ideal Reader

Everything you do regarding your content writing from now on should be related to how your ideal reader will view what you have written. I know that I have skimmed over the concept of writing for your ideal reader to this point, but if you haven’t done it already, you’ll need to get a better idea of who your ideal reader is.

How do you know who your ideal reader is? What is that person’s demographics? You want to know as much about your ideal reader as possible. I believe that it is a good idea to create a character that resembles that ideal reader. Begin with the novel’s genre. Who reads this genre?

For instance, if your book is heavy on the romance, your audience is probably mostly female. If your genre is historical, a huge percentage of your audience is probably older readers who are into learning more about their own roots. If your novel is science fiction, you’re probably dealing with a geeky group of individuals. If you’re dealing with the apocalypse, you’re looking at an audience who might be into conspiracy theories.

Does your ideal reader live in an urban area, the suburbs, or in a rural setting?

The more detailed your ideal reader character becomes, the better you’ll be able to focus on writing for that reader. It is a mistake to think that you’re writing for everyone, because that means that you are writing for no one.

Editing Conversation for Your Ideal Reader

Take another fresh look at your dialogue. Look especially at how your characters’ conversations flow. Are you using dialect? If so, try to look at your writing from your ideal reader’s viewpoint. Do the conversations make your readers stop to decipher your writing? If so, it says more about you than it does about the character, so this needs editing.  

Editing Description for Your Ideal Reader

How do you know when your descriptions are too heavy? One of the easiest ways to know that it is time to cut down a descriptive passage is to look at your passage from the eyes of your ideal reader. Would you as your ideal reader read this passage or would you skip over it? If you would skip over it, then delete it. However, if some of that description is necessary for your story line, cut out what isn’t necessary and keep the necessary part. You don’t want your reader to have to go back and read a boring passage of description just to find that missing necessary piece buried in a descriptive abyss. 

Another issue that may come up that you need to address would be if your ideal reader understands your specific references. For instance, you might have to explain what something is. This is especially common for me when writing history. For instance, in Soldiers Don’t Cry, in the scene where we meet the seventeen-year-old Elizabeth, she is working in the kitchen using a peel. I casually defined what a peel was in the conversation that a peel was the flat, long-handled tool she slipped under the loaf of bread that she was removing from the oven. In Sailing Under the Black Flag, I defined nautical terms giving the reader some insight into the sailing experience.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


The other day I was writing and wrote Thursday, June 27, 2002. As I looked at it, I wondered what day of the week that date actually was, so I googled it. Sure enough, it was actually a Thursday.

There are numerous factors I have to consider when writing and using facts, especially historical fiction like I do in The Locket Saga. When I was writing A Coward’s Solace, I had access to information concerning what the weather was on a specific day. Several times, I needed to know if a certain machine had been invented yet. If I were writing about a specific place, I need to be able to see that place in my mind’s eye and see it in a way that someone who actually been there would see it. In addition, if I were a native of that place, I would need to see it like a local sees it. If I am a native of Paris, I would see The Arch De Triumph differently than a tourist would.

The research you do in the third draft phase of your book is this kind of subtle research that you ignored or missed during earlier editing phases.

 Don’t think that you can just get by with a little general research. Even if you are giving a fictionalized version of a personal memoir, you’ll need to do a little research even a little at this stage.

Relying on Your Own Experience

Research can be a simple as going over your own notes or reviewing your own memories. Some of your own readers might have had a similar experience to one that your character had in the book. If you’re off the slightest bit, your reader could lose interest in your story. This one last micro-bit of research might be exactly what it takes to keep your story authentic to the discriminating reader.

Call a Friend

Make a phone call. Do a quick Google search. Go to the library and look over that reference book one more time. Go to a museum. Look for the smallest detail that supports your story’s authenticity.

Did you mention a movie or play in your story? Include part of a scene in your novel. Don’t remember specifics? Watch it on YouTube. Need to describe a specific skill? Watch YouTube videos where the subjects are performing that that skill. What several people doing the same thing and write what you see.

Add levels of texture to your scenes. Picture that skill by using all of your senses. What does it taste like, smell like, feel like? The other day a friend of mine was wondering what burning peat smelled like so he bought peat incense and determined that it smelled like burning leaves.

How Much To Include

Just because you do the research, doesn’t mean that you have to include all the material. Just as you don’t include everything from your character sketches, don’t bore your readers with all of your research. Include only what makes the scene appear real, no more.

Your made-up world, even if it is fantasy, must seem real. Science fiction and fantasy must be identifiable as being like real life. Even though our invented tales didn’t really happen, we must utilize a framework of real-life facts.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Use these techniques to speed up or slow down time.

Pacing

Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story. Pacing can also be used to show characters aging and the effects of time on story events.

Pacing differs with the specific needs of a story. A far-reaching epic will often be told at a leisurely pace, though it will speed up from time to time during the most intense events. A short story or adventure novel might quickly jump into action and deliver drama.

Pacing is part structural choices and part word choices and uses a variety of devices to control how fast the story unfolds. When driving a manual transmission car, you choose the most effective gear needed for driving uphill, maneuvering city streets, or cruising down a freeway. Similarly, when pacing your story, you need to choose the devices that move each scene along at the right speed.

Seven Literary Devices for Pacing Your Story

You need speed in the opening, middle, and climax of your story. Sure, you’ll take a breather from time to time, especially to pause for significance and to express characters’ emotions, but those times will usually appear just before or after a joyride at lightning speed.

There are lots of tools to hasten your story. Some are better suited for micro-pacing—that is, line by line—and some are better suited for macro-pacing—pacing the story as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at each device.

ACTION

 Action scenes are where you “show” what happens in a story, and, when written in short- and medium-length sentences, they move the story along. Action scenes contain few distractions, little description, and limited transitions. Omit or limit character thoughts, especially in the midst of danger or crisis, since during a crisis people focus solely on survival. To create poignancy, forgo long, descriptive passages and choose a few details that serve as emotionally charged props instead.

CLIFF HANGERS

When a scene or chapter is left hanging, the pace picks up because the reader be anxious to discover what happens next. Readers both love and hate uncertainty, and you are responsible to deliver plenty of unfinished actions, unfilled needs, and interruptions. At the end of a scene or chapter, you want your characters in the middle of a conversation, prepared to end the scene with a revelation, facing a threat, or discovering some other challenge.

DIALOGUE

Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating and invigorates any scene. This type of dialogue is pared down and abbreviated. It volleys back and forth with tension. Reactions, descriptions, and attributions are kept to a minimum. With these conversations, your characters never discuss or ponder. Instead, they argue, confront, or engage in a struggle.

PROLONGING OUTCOMES

Suspense and tension are created when you prolong outcomes. It may seem counterintuitive to prolong an event. You would think that it would slow down the story, however,  this technique actually increases the speed. The reader wants to know, has to discover is your character get rescued from the blizzard. Will the train will arrive before the village resorts to cannibalism?  Will the FBI will solve the case before the terrorist follows through on his destruction?  

SCENE CUTS

Also called a jump cut, this is probably the most common ways to pass time quickly in a story. In this technique, a scene cut moves the story to a new location and assumes the reader can follow without an explanation of the location change. The purpose is to accelerate the story, and the characters in the new scene don’t necessarily need to be the characters in the previous scene.

A SERIES OF EVENTS IN RAPID SUCCESSION

Another means of speeding up your story is to create events that happen one right after another. Such events are presented with minimal or no transitions, and definitely no interspection by the characters. The narrative rapidly leaps from scene to scene and place to place.

SHORT SCENES AND CHAPTERS

Short segments are easily digested and end quickly. Since they portray a complete action, the reader passes through them quickly, as opposed to being bogged down by complex actions and descriptions.

SUMMARY

Instead of a play-by-play approach, another technique is to tell readers what has already happened. Because scenes are immediate and sensory, they require many words to depict. Summary is a way of trimming your word count and reserving scenes for the major events. You can also summarize whole eras, descriptions, and backstories. Summaries work well when time passes but there is little to report, when an action is repeated or when a significant amount of time has passed.

WORD CHOICE AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Words you use are the subtlest tools of pacing. Embed concrete words (like prodigy and iceberg), active voice (with potent verbs like zigzag and plunder), and sensory information into your text. Break up any long, involved paragraphs.

Fragmented, short sentences, and paragraphs quicken the pace. Crisp, punchy verbs, especially those with onomatopoeia (crash, lunge, sweep, scatter, slurp, rattle) also add to a quick pace. Invest in verbs that enliven descriptions, build action scenes and prolong suspense.

Harsh consonant sounds such as those in words like claws, crash, kill, quake, and nag can push the reader ahead. Words with unpleasant associations can also ratchet up the speed: hiss, grunt, slither, smarmy, venomous, slaver, and wince. Energetic, active language is especially appropriate for building action scenes and suspense, and for setting up drama and conflict.

A fast pace means trimming unnecessary words from every sentence. Eliminate prepositional phrases that you don’t need: Trade passive verbs for active one.

If you’re looking to improve how fast or slow your novel moves, learn to utilize all of these literary devices to help you manipulate time

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Kill a line, kill a scene, kill a character. Whatever it takes to improve your novel.

As writers, you have may already heard of the phrase ‘kill your darlings,’ and you may even already be well-versed with its meaning.

However, some writers may not have come across this piece of advice, and it is one that has been handed out to writers for many, many generations so I’ll catch up those who don’t know. William Faulkner, an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi,  originated the phrase ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings.’

What does “Kill Your Darlings” Mean? 

In writing, to killing one’s darlings means getting rid of the things you love the most. That line in your book that you think makes it seem unique and powerful and strange, that scene that you feel really expresses the essence of what your work is about, the accent that you have given your main character that you believe really helps your readers see into their soul…

Yes, those are your darlings.

So why do we have to get rid of them?

Don’t go too overboard with “killing your darlings”. Do it wisely and sparingly.  If you were to hit ‘delete’ on all the best bits of your book, the chances are you’ll end up with gaping holes in your story and, actually, some of the best bits should almost certainly stay.

However, you do need to let go of aspects your writing you are holding onto selfishly. In other words, those aspects of your work that are more about you and less about the story. Those words, side plots, characters or turns of phrase that you personally love but, actually, if you are being truthful, don’t really advance your story in any way.

You might, for example, have thought of a killer line that just perfectly sums up an emotion or scene, it might have come to you in the middle of the night and you might have written it down with such excitement you couldn’t wait to get it into your story the next day.

However, when you tried there just wasn’t a place for it, you wanted to make it fit, but it didn’t. It couldn’t work.

Don’t force something no matter how much you love it. If it is not meant to be in your current story simply save it for the next one, and then let it go.  It takes real maturity for you as an author to let them go.

Kill off Loveable Characters

The same goes for characters who are not going anywhere, ones who don’t belong, or ones who you love fiercely and are so proud of creating. However, these have no part to play in your story.

You find yourself giving them too much attention and neglecting your other characters or bending the plot to fit their way of thinking and point of view.

Killing off characters that you know your reader will love can be a dramatic and useful strategy too. This device is used by Agatha Christie, who often kills off well-liked characters in her novels, because the reader doesn’t expect it. It is surprising and heart-breaking, it makes us invest even more in the story. I did this in the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry with characters that the readers loved from When God Turned His Head. They didn’t belong in Soldiers, and their demise furthered the plots of later books in the series as well. It was a win-win for everyone in The Locket Saga except, of course, those characters.

Place Story before Ego

Can you do it? Of course, you can. It creates personal growth for you as a writer. It takes effort and self-discipline to kill your darlings. But remember, you are not writing your book for you. In fact, it has very little to do with you at all.

Anything that distracts or takes away from your story needs to be shut down. Your aim is to keep your readers immersed and engaged in the world you have created, so don’t let anything divert you or them from this goal.

The sooner you become a ruthless writer and identify and kill your darlings, the easier and more painless it will become.

You don’t have to get rid of them completely. Just take them out and put them somewhere else, in a notebook or a file of ideas – then you never know when one of them might just flourish back to life. Pat yourself on the back for unselfishly putting the story before your ego.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


I don’t know if a writer exists who hasn’t heard the phrase “show it, don’t tell it!” Just in case one exists, I will tell you that it means that it is important to let the characters do the doing rather than allowing the narrator to tell what happens. One of the principle ways that we can show rather than tell is to write our scenes using active rather than passive voice.

The difference between Active Voice and Passive Voice

In English grammar, verbs have five properties: voice, mood, tense, person, and number; here, we are concerned with voice. The two grammatical voices are active and passive.

Active voice basically refers to a sentence that has a subject that acts upon its verb. We’ll explain this in a minute.

Passive voice, on the other hand, means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action. You may have learned that the passive voice is weak and incorrect, but it isn’t that simple as we will see later in this article. When used correctly and in moderation, the passive voice is fine. However, you’ll do well to eliminate most of the passive voice in your novel.  

Identifying Active Voice

When the subject of a sentence performs the verb’s action, we say that the sentence is in the active voice. Sentences in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. Here is an example:

The cat ate her food.

This sentence has a basic active voice construction: subject, verb, and (sometimes) an object. The subject “cat” performs the action described by at. The subject performs the action described by closed. The subjects are always doing. They take action.

What is Passive Voice?

A sentence is in the passive voice, on the other hand, when the subject is acted on by the verb. The passive voice is always constructed with a conjugated form of to be plus the verb’s past participle. Doing this usually generates a preposition as well. That sounds much more complicated than it is, because passivity is actually quite easy to detect. For these next examples of passive voice, we will transform the three active sentences above to illustrate the difference.

“The cat played with the yarn.” is active voice, but “The food was eaten by the cat.” is passive voice.

The active sentence consists of the subject, the verb and the object. The passive sentence consists of the object plus a form of to be plus the past participle of the verb and a preposition in each of these cases “by” Making the sentence passive flipped the structure and necessitated the preposition “by”.

Which Is Better? Active Voice or Passive Voice?

There is no question that using the active voice conveys the stronger, clearer tone. Here’s some good advice: don’t use the passive voice just because you think it sounds more sophisticated than the active voice.

However, times do exist when the passive voice is preferred. For instance, Their car was hit by a train. That sentence construction is helpful because their car is the focus of the writing, not the train.

A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of your sentences in the active voice. This is especially true action-packed novels.

Tips to Recognize the Passive Voice

Sometimes a sentence in passive voice doesn’t necessarily sound “wrong” or wordy. Sometimes passive voice is the best choice. However, consider writing in active voice whenever possible.

Recognizing Passive Voice

To recognize that a sentence is in passive voice, watch out for these keywords:

A

Are

Be

Being

By

Has been

Have been

Is

Was

Were

Will be

How to Change Voice from Passive to Active

To change passive voice to active voice, you need to recognize the sentence’s subject and then rewrite the sentence, so the subject is performing the action.

Let’s use the following example to understand how to change passive voice to active voice:

The repairs were made by the best carpenter in town.

We can recognize that this sentence is in passive voice because the passive keyword “was” is used. Also, it’s not initially clear who or what the sentence is about.

To change the sentence from passive to active:

Step 1: Identify the subject of the sentence – who is doing an action? The payment is not doing the action, so it can’t be the subject. The only person or thing doing an action here is everyone. Everyone paid. So, everyone is the subject of the sentence.

Step 2- Rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action. This sentence could be rewritten to active voice as follows:

The best carpenter in town made the repairs.

This rewrite makes it immediately clear to the reader who is doing what. The subject is doing the action.

When Using Passive Voice May Be the Better Choice

In most cases, writing sentences in passive voice is discouraged, because it can obscure the subject of the sentence and confuse the reader. It also creates a wordy and awkward sentence structure.

As suggested above, use passive voice when a paragraph actually flows better using passive voice rather than active voice. However, if you can express the same idea using an active verb, you should do so. In the same token, don’t mix active and passive structures in the same sentence. If one clause is in the passive voice, the other, too, should also be in the passive voice. Once you learn how to change passive voice to active voice, it’s one less thing you’ll have to edit. However, there are cases when passive voice is preferred.

The passive voice is used when we want to draw attention to the person or thing that was affected by the action of the subject.

For instance, if someone were to ask, “Who killed that bear?” The answer would be “That bear was killed by Robert.”

Here the focus is on a specific bear.

In addition, the passive voice is also preferred in cases where the doer is not important.

The log homes were built around 1800.

Here the focus is on the log homes and not on the person(s) who built them, and therefore we prefer the passive voice.

Practice Changing Passive to Active Voice

Although passive voice is occasionally useful and sometimes preferred because it offers a deflection from knowing the subject of the sentence, passive-voice verbs put the emphasis on the recipient of the action, not the doer of the action. This kind of deflection can sometimes be useful, but strong sentences require active constructions. Passive-voice sentences are also wordier than more concise active voice versions. Therefore, unless you have a specific reason for using passive voice, always convert such verb constructions into active ones.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG

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