SELF-EDITING by Judith Bixby Boling
by Judith Bixby Boling
Editing is an essential step in the writing process. Whether you edit as you write, or write your entire manuscript before picking up the proverbial red pencil, your readers will know whether your story has been edited well.
Even those of us who edit as we write, must go through an editing process after we’ve written, “THE END.” I recommend the following process for self-editing:
* Print your manuscript. Reading it on paper is very different from reading it on the computer screen. Consider changing the font, as well. You’ll see your manuscript differently when it’s in a different font than you used when you wrote it.
* Read it aloud, have someone else read it aloud to you, or use a read-aloud program on your computer. It reads differently when spoken than when read silently.
As you go through your manuscript, look for the things that will make it less readable.
Misspelled, unnecessary, and missing words
Your word processing program’s spell-checker is a good place to start, but isn’t necessarily your best friend. Be aware that it isn’t infallible, particularly in verb conjugation or subject/verb agreement. Spell-checker isn’t going to find those pesky words that got left behind when you restructured that sentence or paragraph. Nor will it notice if you’ve left a word out of a sentence, rendering it unintelligible.
Incorrect word usage
Be on the lookout for the words that sound correct, but aren’t. Homonyms can be an easy trap. Be certain your character waves to the crowd, but doesn’t waive their right to a jury trial. You may want something, but is it their wont?
We’ve all written them. That sentence that sounded so good in your head when you were writing it, but your tongue trips all over it when trying to read it aloud.
Dialects and poor grammar are sometimes difficult to read, and should be used sparingly. Unless your story is in first person, poor grammar should be used only for the dialog of specific characters.
Your subjects and verbs should match.
Commas matter. My two favorite examples are:
Let’s eat Grandma only works if your writing about cannibals. However, by adding a coma, you may then call her dinner by saying, “Let’s eat, Grandma.”
The panda eats, shoots, and leaves. Since when do pandas use firearms? Remove the commas, and the panda eats shoots and leaves. Much more acceptable.
Be certain that all dialogue has opening and closing quotation marks.
Refrain from using exclamation points, semicolons, and parentheses.
Inconsistencies in your story
Are all your character names used correctly?
Did you describe the blue Ford in Harry’s garage, but have him get into a red Toyota before opening the garage door?
Are Susan’s eyes green in Chapter One, but brown in Chapter Seven?
Perhaps Jean told Terrance a secret in Chapter Five, and told him the same secret in Chapter Thirty.
Unless your story is being told in a series of flashbacks or premonitions, it should be told in a logical, linear manner. Having the story jump from December 2000 back to January 1975 and then forward to June 2018 could be confusing to your readers.
To insure story flow, you can read your manuscript backward, one paragraph at a time. Flip to the last page, read the last paragraph, then read the one above it. Do they make sense? If so, go on to the next paragraph, and read through to the beginning.
A word of caution: Don’t over-edit. Some writers continually edit, and edit, and edit again. There comes a point where the writer must put away that red pencil and say, “It is finished. It’s time to publish.”
Judith Bixby Boling, a native Californian, has been writing short stories and essays since elementary school. She utilized her research and writing skills while employed as a paralegal and construction specifier. Boling and her husband share a love of American history, which led them to become Civil War reenactors and living historians. While she is usually seen depicting a Northern woman, on occasion you may find her on the battlefield portraying a woman disguised as a Union cannoneer.
Boling spends her leisure time reading, catching up on the latest Netflix offerings, exploring her genealogy, sewing, knitting, crocheting, baking, reenacting, and spending time with family and friends.
Her debut novel, Priscilla Alone, was published in October 2016. Book Two in the Priscilla Saga, Together Alone, will be published in July 2018. Her books are available at www.amazon.com/author/judithbixbyboling.
Connect with Judith Bixby Boling on Amazon, Facebook Goodreads, and Twitter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.