What steps should you take in editing? It can get pretty confusing. What should stay and what should go? Let this article be your guide. Don't try to edit all of the story or article at once. Each edit should be looking for specific problems and it's better not to edit at all until you've finished the overall work. Editing is another name for rewriting, and rewriting comes later.
1. Resist the urge to look back. Keep your eye on the goal. Strive for free-writing flow. One of the best ways to do that is to roughly outline every chapter before you begin - just two or three sentences per chapter is usually enough. Do some warm-up writing for ten minutes and during this time, write about something that makes you mad... perhaps an old flame, something your mate did, something your parents did - whatever. It will stir your creativity. After a ten-minute warm up, it's time to write seriously.
2. As you write, follow the rules for prepositional phrases - no more than three prep. phrases to a sentence, and avoid using more than two
in consecutive order. Prepositions are easy to identify. Some of the most common are: in, on, at, to, for, under, before, but there are hundreds. Find a partial list of them here: http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/prepositions-list.htm.
Pick out the ones you use most and avoid them like the plague. Prepositional phrases usually tell when or where, such as: "I will meet you IN the afterlife," or "He told his daughter TO go INTO the house." Consecutive prepositional phrases make weak sentence construction. Note:
If you begin a sentence with a prepositional phrase, place a comma at the end of it (just as I did in this sentence.)
3. Edit for wordiness, also known as verbiage. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines verbiage as "profusion of words, usually of little or obscure content." In other words, excess words that say nothing. Cut your sentences until they bleed. Use only one adjective at a time. Chop your descriptions down to that which relates directly to the scene and leave nothing but the most necessary meat.
4. Delete all adverbs ending in -ly,
such as sadly, hatefully, etc. The use of adverbs is a sure indicator that you aren't engaging the technique called Show, Don't Tell. (See #11)
5. Use the spellchecker. You would think it would be unnecessary to mention this. Don't totally rely on it. If you use the word "right" when you meant to say "write", or if you use "blew" instead of "blue," it won't catch the error. To be safe, scan for mistakes after you use the spellchecker.
6. Formatting and punctuation: Double space the body and indent the first line of every paragraph. Every new line of dialogue should begin on a new line. Space only ONCE after a period. For writing in the USA, be sure all punctuation (except the colon) lies within the quote marks. Check to see that all of your quotes are closed. Don't use a semi-colon unless it is before the word "however," (in which case, use a comma immediately following "however"). Don't use colons except to list things: recipes, items of clothing, kinds of perfume, etc.
7. Use commas to separate two clauses into a compound sentence. Also use commas between city and state and to offset introductory prepositional phrases.
8. Don't use more than one exclamation mark per every 2,000 words!!!
9. Learn to use the ellipsis (three dots) properly. Remember, the ellipsis represents a pause or interruption in the sentence. It's easy to overuse these little devils. If you find yourself falling into that trap, use a dash instead and insert a space on each side of it. Rules for using the ellipsis:
a. When used at the beginning of a sentence: "(space)...And that's all he said."
b. In the middle of a sentence: "I hated to tell you that...(space)I didn't want to hurt your feelings."
c. At the end of a sentence: "I didn't want to tell you....(space)"
(Did you notice that the last example ended with four dots? That's because the last dot acts as a period to end the sentence.)
10. Check for linear flow (order of events). Don't try flashbacks unless you know what you're doing.
11. Watch for tense changes. If you begin in past tense, the entire story
must be written in past tense, with two exceptions – one of which you should never use. The first exception is in dialogue, and that is because people speak in mixed tenses – present, past and future. The second exception is internal dialogue (thoughts). That throws it into the omniscient voice and editors don't like that. Don't tell what your character is thinking. SHOW it. Keep in mind that showing versus telling always takes three to five times as many words. That's okay, as long as it's meaty.
Example of Telling:
"I'm so nervous," Jennifer thought as she saw the doctor approach.
(boo... hiss... bad writing)
Jennifer picked on her nail as the doctor approached with furrows in his brow. Time shifted into slow motion as she pulled a nail into the quick. A tiny drop of blood appeared, but the painful distraction was welcome.
12. Douse all forms of the verb "to be." That includes is, am, are, was, were, be, being
. These are dead verbs that say nothing. According to Wikipedia, allowed forms are: become, has, have, had, I've, you've, do, does, doing, did, can, could, will, would, shall, should, ought, may, might and must.
The fact that they are allowed, however, does not make them desirable. Get rid of as many as possible because they weaken sentence structure. Likewise, using "could" or "would" will drop you into a trap that you'll find hard to escape.
13. On your very last edit, check the verbs and replace them with jazzier ones. Examples:
• He choked until he couldn't breathe – He hawked
until he couldn't breathe.
• The little girl ran down the sidewalk – The little girl skipped
down the sidewalk.
• The boy hit the ball out of the park – The boy whanged
the ball out of the park.
Jazzing your verbs (choosing more active verbs) will make your work glow.
14. Sentence tags: Don't use "said she" or "said he." Turn those words around to read "he said" and "she said." Delete most tag endings, such as "she said with a snicker." If you have sufficiently built your characters, the reader will usually know the attitudes they impart.
15. Ask a friend to read your article aloud while you take notes on places you want to change. This is the best way to get clear perspective on what you've written. If you don't have someone who can read it aloud, YOU read it aloud - but be careful to read exactly what's written and not what your mind wants to insert. Hint: When you stumble over a sentence, it usually indicates awkward wording. Rewrite it.
Follow these 15 editing steps and the end result will be crisp, easy-to-understand writing that is stuffed with meat. What reader can resist that?
Have a question? Feel free to write.
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