So you have finished your first draft. You have given it your all. Now is the time to self-edit.
Why? Because you get no more than a few minutes to woo a commissioning editor. Because it is your responsibility to present a neat, smooth and strong manuscript. Because even if you plan to hire someone to edit your work, you must clean up on your own first. That way, you save time and go straight to problems you couldn’t have fixed yourself.
But first, what is editing? Editing is the process of correcting, condensing or modifying written material for publication. It applies to both ‘Big Picture Areas’ and ‘Fine-Detail Areas’. What are those? Let’s have a look.
Big Picture Areas
Style, Tone, Genre
Know what kind of reaction you want to elicit in the reader and whether your writing is achieving that goal.
Find out gaps in logic, contradictions or other narrative blips by retroactively outlining your story. Make a list of exactly what you’ve written on the page, without adding any explanations. Then go through the outline to make sure everything adds up.
Don’t throw in characters, especially minor ones, only to steer the protagonist in a certain direction. Give everyone a personality and clear motivations.
Good dialogue copies the way people talk, but it’s tighter. It is the opposite of dead dialogue: lines that do not take the conversation forward or give us a sense of character. If two characters have nothing to say beyond fillers, delete.
Sometimes, you start putting words on paper until you hit the right note. It acts like a warm-up but slows down your pace. Don’t bore your reader. Put them in the immediate narrative moment and eliminate anything that dilutes the intensity of your story.
Flow and Rhythm
Read your text out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over a passage, rewrite it.
Too Many Words
Look for descriptions, actions or dialogue that are simply reinforcing each other. Select the most interesting way of saying that thing and delete the rest. Imagine you are having to pay someone ten rupees for every extra word you have written.
Also, avoid info-dumps. Information should be elegantly woven into the story, not dumped on the reader all at once.
Point of View
POV is two things. First, it’s the choice to tell a story in first/ second/ third person. Second, it’s the perspective. Whose story is it? Stick to that person. Think of your POV character as your camera. You can only describe what your camera can see, hear and know. Ideally, limit yourself to one POV character per scene.
Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation
Use grammatically appropriate words. Make sure they are spelled the right way. Refer to The Chicago Manual of Style.
Anything that can be verified needs to be verified.
Use variety in sentence construction and length.
Keep two things in mind. One, the passage of time. Two, the time-period in which the story is set.
Here are some editing tools we can use:
It helps you identify grammatical errors, poor vocabulary and spelling mistakes.
It highlights problem areas in your text and gives you a readability score.
It is a grammar checker, style editor and writing mentor. It highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre.
It analyses your text for repetitions, excessive use of adverbs, crutch words, similar sounding dialogue tags, etc.
It is a writing correction software that tightens, tones and clarifies your writing.
- A few quick tips. Take a break once you finish your story. Rest the manuscript; allow it to breathe. If you don’t have a deadline, get the story out of your system before you come back to it.
- Use editing partners who can look over your work and offer suggestions.
- Pay attention to the presentation. Unless specified otherwise, double-space your writing, keep one-inch margins and use a clean twelve-point font.
- Last but not least, know when to stop. Do not get lost in endless revisions. Do not continue editing just for the sake of it. A story is done when your edits stop improving it. Writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery put it beautifully when he said, “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Read Sahana Ahmed’s novel Combat Skirts
Sahana Ahmed is a fiction writer from Gurugram. Find her at www.sahanaahmed.com