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Editing Made Easy
by Lee Masterson
finally done it. You've finished your prized manuscript -
the one you've spent months creating - and the temptation
to pop it into a postal package and ship it off to a
welcoming editor is tugging at you mercilessly.
I urge you to resist that temptation. For now, anyway.
After spending so much of your time and effort in
producing what you have so far, it would seem a shame to
rush things at this crucial stage in your manuscript's
life. Once the first draft is done, almost every writer
realizes that an edit or partial rewrite is going to be a
There are almost as many different ways to edit and
rewrite as there are writers. Some prefer to edit as they
go. There are those who prefer to chop and change
storylines midway through the creation process. Others
seem to race through the first draft and spend time
polishing it up once they're done. I'm one of the latter.
It makes no difference which technique you prefer, as
long as it works for you. The point is to end up with a
professional manuscript which an editor will hopefully
So let's take a look at 12 polishing techniques that
could mean the difference between a sale and a rejection.
Print it Out
Seeing your words paraded before you on a screen is one
thing. Reading your words in a different form means you
will see it in a different perspective. If you write in
long-hand, type it out. If you use a computer, print out
a paper copy.
I realize this method gets a little heavy on the pocket,
but seeing your work in a new light will highlight a lot
of little mistakes and inconsistencies that would not be
so obvious otherwise. Your work will benefit from the
exposure in a different format.
Read it Aloud
Okay, so this might look a little silly to anyone peeking
through your window, but the chances are, no one is
looking anyway. The point of this exercise is to bring
out the natural flow (or lack thereof) in your writing.
For this step, a notepad and a plentiful supply of pens
are handy. As you read, don't be tempted to stop and
correct any redundancies, or awkward phrasings. Jot down
anything you notice in your notepad, but keep reading.
You will get to the fix-it stage later.
Nothing will benefit your writing more than hearing it
read aloud. You'll discover nuances of rhythm and
interpretation that the printed word will not show. You
may also discover odd-sounding cadences that interrupt
the flow. Whatever you discover, hearing what you've
written will give you a sense of distance.
Spelling and grammar
When you read something you created yourself, the
tendency to anticipate words is common. Often you mind
will see the word you intended to write, rather than the
actual error. Your computer spell-checker will not pick
up these discrepancies.
Words like "then" and "than" are easy
to miss, and even easier to overlook. They are such
little words, after all.
Ask yourself how you would feel if you had picked up
another author's work and found trivial typing errors
sprinkled throughout the story. I'm sure you wouldn't be
too pleased, nor would the story seem so enjoyable for
this distraction. This is how a potential reader is going
to view your work. Take the time to read it through
During this initial read through, you should discover
that there are points in your story that did not unravel
the way you thought they would. You may also learn that
you began several threads that vanished into thin air.
It happens. You know all the material in your story
backwards. From your perspective, all the information is
already there. But the reader's perspective is what
counts here. Just because the conclusions seem logical to
you does not mean your writing clarified your intentions.
You might have been caught up in the push of the story or
the lure of the characters and the plot braid you began
got lost in the moment. This is the time to pick up all
the loose threads and tie them into a neat, satisfying
Is your point of view consistent? Do you have characters
who wander into play, and then fizzle out, contributing
nothing to the story? Are your character traits
If you've introduced a character in Chapter One who is
five feet five and brunette, describing her as five feet
eight with blonde hair in Chapter Six is not going to sit
well with readers, much less an editor.
Similarly, bringing a character into play simply to
deliver a line, or specific piece of information, is
awkward. Find a way to utilize an existing character for
this, or better still, flesh out your 'extra' so that he
contributes more to the storyline than just a messenger
Sometimes, though, minor characters are important. The
nameless man serving behind the counter, the woman at the
ticket booth, the girlfriend of the next door neighbor's
son. Showing the extras is fine, but ask yourself how
much relevance they have to your story before you jump
into their life history, or worse, their point of view.
Propel the Story
Know what your story's conflicts are. Conflict helps to
build tension, which will drive your story forward.
Without the right descriptions, or by cluttering up the
stage, some of that impetus can be lost.
Sometimes, though, the thrill of writing action sequences
or steamy scenes can make you lose sight of where your
story was heading. Adding an extra scene or two for the
sake of excitement will not work if it does not advance
your story-line in a positive way.
It is hard to slash a great section of writing, or a
favorite piece of dialogue, but be brutal. If it does not
advance your story or strengthen your plot focus, then
close your eyes and press delete
Consider how a reader will feel looking at your work for
the first time. Is the action propelling enough to make
him turn page after page? Is the protagonist's struggle
believable enough to earn a sense of empathy from your
Again, do not give in to the temptation to stop reading
and fix the problem. Keep a note in your notepad of any
Trim the Excess
When describing anything in your fictional world, be
specific. Telling a reader "the grass was a shade of
green" or "she felt kind of ill" is
wishy-washy and weak. If the grass is green, then tell us
it's green. If your characters is ill, then tell us she
is, and be sure to add the specifics of what ails her.
Similarly, go through and remove any weak nouns, verbs
and modifiers. Eliminate any abstractions and replace
them with concrete images that will help your readers to
visualize what is happening.
Scan your manuscript for adjective-nouns combinations
that can be replaced with a stronger, more specific noun.
Remove any expletives that do not add to the story or
characterization. Cut any clichés. If you must use a
metaphor or simile, strike a unique comparison of your
Active versus passive
Passive voice weakens any piece of writing, while active
voice will add power and immediacy to your story. Instead
of writing "the boat was tossed about by the rough
seas", replace this with "rough seas tossed the
Keep a look out for any sections of passive voice and
remove them, or replace them with a stronger alternative.
Is your plot complicated by twisting time-lines, too many
flashbacks, or confusing plot braids that are improperly
woven together? Consider eliminating some of these
sections to give a straight chronology.
Keep descriptions simple with powerful nouns. Strip your
dialogue to its bare essence. The extra details won't be
lost, and the conversations will have a tighter feel.
Positive forms of description are clearer and more direct
than negative. As you go through your writing, make a
note of the words no and not. Then figure
out a way to tell us what is instead of what isn't.
Simplicity brings clarity.
Variety is a key factor in holding a reader's interest.
Go through and find synonyms for any frequently repeated
words or phrases.
Reading through this article, the amount of times I've
used the word 'replace' is scary. I should find a way to
rearrange my structuring so the word 'replace' doesn't
show up so often, or I will risk sounding repetitive.
- Get another opinion
When you have finally completed all the changes and edits
from your notepad, it is time to seek another opinion. An
unbiased viewpoint might pick up a few discrepancies that
even you missed on the last edit. Besides which, it is
always a good thing to have someone else check through
your work before an editor sees it.
It makes no difference who reads your work. You aren't
looking for an A Grade editor, just an honest reader's
opinion. All you need from them is an idea of how your
work affected them. After all, more than 95% of your
readers will eventually fall into this category.
And if that reader does happen to pick up on a few little
things, the objectivity will have been worth the time and
An alternative here is to submit your manuscript to a
workshop. Sometimes the critiques can seem harsh, and
sometimes you will receive some encouragement or praise
for your work, but mostly you will gain an understanding
of how different people are interpreting your words.
Once you have completed your read-through, it is time to
make the changes real. Take the time to chop the
redundancies and pull out pieces that don't contribute.
This can take some time, but your story will be stronger
Just when you think you've finished, and it's time to
send your masterpiece out into the big, bad world, read
This is an important step. When adding extra words, or
editing out the parts that didn't work, it is inevitable
you will make a few mistakes. Simple typing errors,
forgetting to delete the rest of an incomplete sentence,
doubling up on added lines. These things happen.
Don't skim this part. Read through your manuscript again
carefully. When you are sure it's all in place and as
polished as it's ever going to get...
Send it out the door
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.