I suck at editing. Thankfully I am lucky enough to have an editor AND a copy editor AND a proof reader. And I’m still having to blink in awe at that sentence.
I’m not a perfectionist so I really need all the help that I can get. I just finished a short story from Alex’s point of view, which is going in the back of Losing Lila and it took my agent to point out that I’d called one character by the wrong name for half the story.
My copy editor in particular picks up not so much the spelling and grammar errors but the continuity errors and repetitions. The places where I’ve said one thing on p.23 and then totally contradicted that on p.230. She also points out where references I’ve made to obscure 80s movies might go over the heads of teenagers today. Sigh.
I heard that Charlaine Harris’s publishers employ a full time fact checker and continuity person for her because with so many Sookie Stackhouse books it’s so hard to keep a grip on who’s who and what’s gone before. One day I can dream of such a thing.
So here are some of the things I do to help me edit.
Read it out loud
I find this the most useful way of editing. When you read out loud you pick up the cadence and rhythm of sentences, you notice where you’ve used the same word in the same paragraph twice. You realize where you’re missing words or where another word might be needed to give better flow and you realize where dialogue sounds stilted and wrong. If you read it in your head it’s not the same.
Add the document to your Kindle or ereader. I find that reading my manuscripts off a Kindle makes it feel more like a book already and so I read it in a different way, more critically, and can add quick notes and bookmarks as I go.
Revise Revise Revise
Editing is a process. Losing Lila has been through about six revisions. And will probably go through two more (with my editor) before it’s even read by the copy editor where the final revisions will happen. I wrote it almost two years ago so I’ve had time to do this many revisions. I leave a few months in between and then return to it with fresh eyes. It’s true that the more revisions you do the better it gets. I’m now really happy with it. It’s tighter, funnier and better constructed and I’ve had the chance to take on board feedback from Hunting Lila and edit accordingly.
If you plot as you go or have a convoluted plot that jumps from location to location and through time it can be easy to mess up the continuity. There’s a mistake in Hunting Lila which a reader spotted (it involves Lila’s birthday) and that was down to a continuity error on my part when I was editing (I wanted her to be a Sagittarius!) Solutions to managing continuity include having someone else read your book when you’re done to check for things like this (sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees), keeping notes on a separate spreadsheet or doc, creating a timeline of dates or a story arc as well as character notes on things like birthdates, physical description, background, first appearance in book etc
If you are writing a series of books this becomes even more crucial. I still wonder how on earth JK Rowling plotted seven books so intricately.
Whilst I’ve spent a lot of time in the States and now live in Indonesia surrounded by North American and Australian ex-pats, I’m English and have a sort of south London slash transatlantic accent. Most of my main characters are American and my books are for the most part set in America.
I send all my manuscripts to three American friends to read and check through for authenticity and idioms. In British editions some of the language stays British (mum for mom, vest for tank top, boot for trunk, pissed off instead of pissed) but at least I hope the characters sound how they are meant to sound for the most part.
Adjectives and adverbs
They just fill up space. Of course we need some descriptions and you can’t and shouldn’t strip out every adjective but try to SHOW- DON’T TELL as much as you can.
Instead of saying ‘He was arrogant’ – how can you show this instead of telling the reader it? Does he stand in a certain way? Speak in a certain way? Does he cock an eyebrow? Or curl his lip?
How can you show someone is nervous instead of telling us she is? Does her gaze falter, does she clasp and unclasp her hands, hop from foot to foot. If you read a lot you’ll see how other authors show and don’t tell.
Look into book length. As a debut author especially – an agent or publisher is unlikely to look kindly at a manuscript that is overlong.
An average YA novel is about 65,000-85,000. Hunting Lila and Fated both fall in at around 82,000 words (305pages roughly).
Adult novels at 100,000.
Whilst a 200,000 word tome is not necessarily going to be chucked on the reject pile (think Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations…) unless it’s truly a modern day classic stick with the genre averages. I’d say you have a better chance of your manuscript being read in its entirety.
If you stick to word count now you’ll save hours and hours of editing time later!
I cut 27,000 words from my first draft of Hunting Lila. At first I agonized over every sentence. And then I just got brutal. I chopped whole pages, even whole chapters. The rule of thumb – does it drive the story forward? Does it reveal something about the character? If not, take it out. Even characters – are they all absolutely necessary? If not take them out.
Then finally – at some point just say ‘enough’ – it might not be perfect but it never will be perfect. You just have to accept that.
My first draft of Lila got accepted by an agent and publisher and it was still pretty rough compared to the final cut. You could edit for forever but there isn’t time for forever if you want to get your book out into the world.