Friday, January 26, 2007

Editing Your Manuscript: Stage 2

Yesterday, we went over the first stage in editing your manuscript: Put it aside.

Before you start a major edit, if possible, set aside the manuscript for a few weeks. When you then take it up, it’ll will be fresher to your eye and you’ll have a little different perspective on the words.

Stage 2: Edit by steps, not marathons.

I know how difficult this is. You start reading through the manuscript and your tendency is to try to do it all at once. You'll end up bogged down, lost, maybe even depressed. Trust me. Try to break it down and edit step by step.

Here's what I try to do: I read it on the computer, copy-editing as I go. Not only am I re-acquainting myself with the plot and characters, I'm catching whatever spelling or grammar errors I might have missed.

Then I print out a copy on recycled paper (don't waste good trees). And I start the real re-write process. I don't think it's critical that you look for certain things in a certain order. Some of the areas to look for are: Show and Tell, Characterization and Exposition, POV, Dialogue, and Voice, among others.

I usually start by making notes -- you can even do this as you copy edit. Chapter by chapter, note who is on-scene, what happened, the ending hook, POV, scene goals.

Then take a colored pen and start editing one aspect of the novel -- Point of View consistency, or checking to see that there's not too much Exposition or Narrative, or breaking down the Dialogue -- is it believable, does it move the story forward, does each character have a consistent, unique, identifying voice. Another area to look at might be Repetition. Do you say the same thing over and over? Do you need to? Another area to check is Consistency. In the movie world, there is someone whose job is to check consistency. When the filming stops to reset cameras, or whatever, that person must make sure that when filming resumes, everything is exactly the way it was before. In the writing world, the author must check to see that nothing vital, like eye-color or car-type or time of day, has suddenly, inexplicably changed.

I do one thing, say POV, marking and re-writing with my little red pen. Then I enter it into the computer, putting a pencil check mark by each edit. Then I work on the next area, say Dialogue, marking and re-writing with my little green pen. Then I enter it into the computer, putting a pencil check mark by each edit. Then I work on, say, making sure I haven't left a character out of the story for too long a stretch, marking and re-writing with my little purple pen. Then ... I think you get the idea.

You may reach a point where your hard-copy looks like a rainbow melted on it. No problem, print a fresh copy and keep going. You may reach a point where you're ready to scream. No problem, set aside the editing and take a rest. Go back to working on those other projects. You may need to refresh the lines on your dust drawing since by now they may be filling in with new dust.

And once it's polished and perfected, you're ready to go on to: Stage 3. Tomorrow.


  1. Thanks for your excellent writing advice, Helen. I've tagged you for a meme - tell us five things about you that we don't know. This meme started among genealogy bloggers, but since I'm a writer as well as a genealogist, I expanded it to writers.

  2. Well, hello there David! This is my first tag. Okay. Tomorrow, five things you may not know about me. Hmm. Gotta think about this.


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