by Scott Rhoades
I just learned that March is National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo). I'm a little late to the party, but I'm still in time for the cake.
NaNoEdMo participants sign up on the website and log the hours they spend editing, with the goal of 50 hours during the month. We still have time for 25. The site has lots of tips for successful editing.
In honor of this occasion, I thought I'd share a few of my own favorite editing tips.
Your Printer is Your Friend
I know ink and toner cost a lot, and paper's not cheap either. But for at least one editing cycle, print your manuscript. There are things that are hard to see or fix when looking at one page at a time.
Resist the Urge to Change
For this editing pass, you are marking stuff. You don't want to change things. You just want to mark possible problems. That's another reason why you should print a copy. It's too easy to make changes on the computer.
Don't read your printed manuscript. Scan it for the potential problems I mention below. If you read, you'll get caught up in the story and you won't see the trees for the forest, or the weeds for the garden, or whatever.
One Thing at a Time
Of course, it's good to go through your entire novel in general editing passes where you look for everything. But when copy editing, it's useful to look for one thing at a time. For example, if you tend to use too many adjectives and adverbs, make one pass looking only for adjectives and mark them all with a colored marker. Then, make a second pass looking only for adverbs, and mark them with another color. Even if you don't think this is a problem for you, mark up that printed manuscript anyway. When you see all those colors, you might be surprised.
Do the same thing for other problems you might have. Do you use your character's name too often? Do you use "weedy" words like "just" and "very"? Do you tend to over use "be" verbs like is, was, and were? Use new colors for each of those problems.
Watch Those Nouns and Verbs
While you're marking up that manuscript, make a pass where you look at nothing but your nouns, and one where you look at your verbs. Are they as strong as possible? Hint: if you used an adverb, your verb can probably be stronger. Did you write "He walked slowly into the room"? Replace "walked slowly" with a stronger verb that means the same thing. Did he saunter or amble? Creep? Sashay? Those words say more about the character and provide a better mental image of what he did than "walked slowly" does.
Same thing with nouns. "His dog greeted him at the door" is one thing. But what if the dog is more specific, like a great dane or a poodle or a chihuahua of a golden retriever? Each of those is a clue that points to character traits. What if you have a humungous ugly hit man with a smashed in nose, cauliflower ears, and a scar from the left side of his forhead to the bottom of his right cheek. He walks slowly home--I mean, he shambles home--opens the door, and is greeted by his Pomeranian. That's not the dog you expected? Good. That makes it interesting and it reveals character.
Make It Personal
If you are in a writers group or have beta readers, then you know what problems you have with your writing mechanics, or at least which problems your insane readers claim you have when you know darn well you don't. Prove them wrong. Pull out a colored marker and scan only for one of those pro...b...le...ms--oops. You marked that eight times in the first two pages. Maybe you have a problem, after all.
The marker method works great for just about any mechanical problem. It's not as useful for big-picture issues like plot structure or the need for an emotional reaction. But at some point, you have to catch all those mechanical things too, so try this method. You might just be surprised what you find.