The “E” Word

I once had a fantasy about spending hours of bliss pecking at my keyboard. It ended with a faultless manuscript and huge smile.  After writing my first novel, (soon to be published and no, I’m not above a shameless plug!), the dream was shattered by the reality of the “E” word.

If you’ve never written a paper for school, article, book report, novel, or thesis, I’m assuming you’re four and perhaps, this blog isn’t for you.  All writing has to be put through the editing paces to varying degrees.  Because a novel is, in general, lengthy and requires fifty thousand words or more, the task seems more daunting.  

In the beginning, I assumed running the Microsoft Word spelling/grammar check would suffice.  I curse the program now and use it to catch blatant spelling mishaps, and little else. Unfortunately, I’m yet to find a computer which can go through each line of a manuscript and consider the words with any emotion.  I’m sure the day will come, but until then I’ve developed my own editing checklist. 

The list, without a doubt, will overwhelm anyone who has just written their first masterpiece.  However, the important thing is to take one thing at a time, and move through the editing process, with all the patience you can muster.

So, for all the literary geniuses out there, here it is.  

1)   Are the main characters clearly defined?  – By the time you start editing you may have read your work several times, and you may be able to answer this question without too much grief.

2)   Does the MC(s) learn a lesson?  Show spiritual or emotional growth?

3)   Can your MC(s) solve problems, which arise in the plot?

4)   Does the plot stay on course?

5)   Is their action in the first scene to which draws in the reader?

6)   Are the subplots tied into the main plot?

7)      Is there a twist at the end?

 Now for the specifics:

8)   Head hopping – I didn’t know what the term meant, until I reread my NANOWRIMO novel and realized how many times I’d changed “heads” in one scene. Save changes in POV for scene, or chapter changes.

9)  Repetitious words – The bane of all editors – here’s the short list: that, really, very, nearly, almost, then, and then, about, like, just, actually – there are many more and every publisher/editor will have a few which cause them to scream in agony.  You can’t delete them all, but most times, you can make the sentence stronger by giving them the axe.

10)  Passive voice – Change passive to active whenever possible. i.e.: The dishes were washed by John – No – John washed the dishes. – Better.

11)   Remove autonomous body parts – who knew eyes, could roll across the floor?  Where was she when her hand swept the counter?

12)   A critique partner (I use the term partner loosely. She critiqued. I cried.) pointed out that sentences which begin with the word “When” are telling.  If you use this word, get the red pen out, and revise.

13)  Effect before cause – i.e.:  A shiver ran up her spine when he entered the room – no – He entered the room, and she shivered.  – Better.

14)  Names w/in dialogue – How many times do you really call “Joe”, “Joe” in one conversation? Reading dialogue aloud helps.

15)  Too many ellipses – personally, I like them.  I spend a lot of time deciding which ones need to go.

16)  Talking heads – no scene setting, or description just a couple of characters causing the reader to lose track of who said what.

17)  Dialogue tags with characters that only make faces.  Are they doing anything besides smiling, grimacing and frowning? 

18)  Editors hate when you use animal noises to describe voices.  i.e.: he hissed, growled or roared. 

19)  Spell out numbers, time, chapter headings, etc.

20)  Remove adverbs.  All the “LY” words should go.  They say remove most of them, but they mean all…so here are mine lovely, probably, sweetly and cruelly.  (I feel better, don’t you?)

21)  Make sure each sentence in a paragraph starts with a different word. 

22)    When all else fails, enlist a fresh pair of eyes. Maybe, if you buy them food, or drink, your friends will volunteer 🙂

Finally, I wanted to share the highlight method for those who print out their manuscript.  It works!

Pink – action

Blue – dialogue

Yellow – thoughts and feelings

Green – narration

Too much green?  Revise, revise, revise!

Monique O’Connor James

Author of “The Keepers” coming soon from Astraea Press


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