By Gina Ardito
I’m not only an author; I’m a freelance editor, too. As an editor, I want to give my clients every opportunity to clean up their manuscript before it gets to me. The cleaner your manuscript is when it hits my desk, the less you pay to edit the stuff you missed and the better your chances of catching a publisher’s eye. Let me help you achieve your writing goal with some quick and tidy editing tips.
Have you just typed The End and can’t wait to dig into the edit process? Stop. Put that manuscript aside for a while before reviewing it. Give your brain time to reboot so when you come back to the story, you’re fresh, and so is the story.
When you’re finally ready to edit, open the document. Before you do anything else, save it with Edit or Revision added to your original title. This way, you’ll always have your original document, should you need to refer to it at a later date. On your revision version, change the font style and enlarge the font size. With a new style and size, your eye will more easily catch errors you’d normally miss.
Use a standard pen, not a marker or a gel pen that smears. Choose a color you like to make the work happier. Don’t opt for red unless you truly love it. Go with purple or green—avoid black, which won’t stand out against your type on the printed page.
Find a comfortable spot, a different site than where you write. Don’t sit at your desk. Just like with your font, different surroundings make it easier for your eyes to see the actual words on the page. Go outside, to another room, or a coffee shop with your printed manuscript. Now, let’s start editing.
Backstory: Only include information that impacts the scene.
In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass advises, “Remember that backstory is, for the most part, more important to you, the author, than to your reader.”
If you’re unsure if you need particular information in a scene, try reading the scene without the passages detailing that information. Was the scene hindered by its absence? If the answer is “no,” delete the backstory.
Description: Let’s say your character’s plane is going into a tailspin. Is now a good time to describe the color of her hair and eyes? Do green-eyed redheads crash faster than blue-eyed blondes? Then it’s not important at this juncture. Find another place for such information in the manuscript. Or don’t. If it doesn’t impact the scene, let your readers envision the characters any way they like.
Adjectives and adverbs: Sprinkled in, adjectives and adverbs add zest. Too much, and you’ve ruined what could have been a masterpiece.
In The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman advises writers to cut excess:
“…(1) where you use more than one adjective or adverb.” For example, “hot, humid, sticky” = “stifling.”
“…(2) where you’ve used commonplace or cliché adjectives…” For example, “cold as ice” = “icy.”
Modifiers: Useless words add nothing and should be deleted when possible. Are any of these familiar to your work?
Dangling Participles: Search for sentences that begin with an –ing verb to find dangling participles. A dangling participle occurs when you modify the wrong noun. “Striding across the room, his eyes were drawn to her.” This sentence reads that “his eyes” (the subject) were striding across the room. “Landing at the bottom of the stairs, the pain shot through her bones.” The pain landed at the bottom of the stairs.
Danglers also happen with words that end in –ed, so be alert! “Whipped into a froth, the chef poured the eggs into the pan.” I think the writer meant the eggs were whipped, not the chef.
Starting a sentence with an –ing word can also lead to creating two simultaneous actions that can’t happen simultaneously. “Kicking off her shoes, she removed her socks.” You can’t do both at once. Try “After kicking off her shoes, she removed her socks.” Or “She kicked off her shoes and removed her socks.”
Contractions: “Cannot” = “can’t,” “who has” = “who’s,” and so on. Contractions speed up pacing and make your author voice sound more natural to the reader.
Dialogue: Avoid the “As you know…” trap. For example:
Jenna flounced to the couch and collapsed in a heap of white tulle. “I don’t want to marry Stuart. I wish we’d stayed in New York.”
“But, Jenna,” her mother said. “We had to move for your father’s health. The soot and grime of the city was too much for his lungs. He has severe asthma, you know.”
This dialogue doesn’t move the story forward. The reader is probably more interested in Stuart, but the conversation focuses on the father’s backstory, which isn’t pertinent to the scene.
When using dialogue tags, stick with “said,” “replied,” “exclaimed,” and “asked.” Avoid “responded,” “opined,” and “queried.” Better yet, use an action with the dialogue to convey mood.
Narrative arc. Every story must have these key components:
1. Opening hook
2. Introduction of conflicts
3. Initial success
4. Stumbling Blocks
5. Sub-plot, downfall, or introduction of new conflicts
6. Ease of some issues, but original problem still looming
7. Ticking clock/conflicts turn against protagonist
8. Black Moment
A few other common errors to look for:
Character names. Make sure you use the same name and spell it the same way throughout.
Character traits. Give each character a unique tic or reaction to emotional upheaval and a distinctive way of speaking, with phrases used only by them.
Loose ends. All tied up?
Continuity. If the villain has a gun in Chapter 3, he shouldn’t use a knife in Chapter 4.
While editing, remember: Love the story, not the words. Be ready to kill your darlings if they don’t work. Best of luck!
Gina Ardito is the award-winning author of contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance, currently published by Montlake Romance and independently. In 2012, she launched her freelance editing business, Excellence in Editing, and now has a stable of award-winning clients, as well.
She’s hosted workshops around the world for writing conferences, author organization chapter meetings, and library events. To her everlasting shame, despite all her accomplishments, she’ll never be more famous than her dog, who starred in commercials for 2015’s Puppy Bowl.
Her newest release, MEMORIES IN DECEMBER, is available now. For more information on Gina and all her books, visit her website.