I say “The Band Wagon” because there are dozens upon dozens of posts and pages with similar information – tips on writing and editing from authors who have published a book on writing and editing. After reading several books this past month, as well as participating in forum discussions of self-editing, here are some biggies I noticed about editing that I have not seen pointed out elsewhere (other than spell-check failures; and no, I haven’t read every such page everywhere). I mention some approaches I use myself during the writing process.
1. REMINDER: Automated spell-check does not notice when you use the wrong word (homonyms or otherwise). “Know” instead of “now” or “his” instead of “him” or “you” instead of “your”. Reading your own book doesn’t lend well to finding these, because you read over them while your brain inserts the correct word. Have someone else read your book and point out such errors. Or, if you have to do it yourself, change the font a few times. It’s amazing how such errors are more recognizable in a different font. Start in a different location within the book, instead of the beginning. Will you catch them all – probably not, but 1 or 5 is forgivable in a book of 75,000 words. 5 in one page or chapter – ack! The first few chapters are usually outstanding, but more and more errors appear the deeper into the novel I read.
Pay someone if you must, or ask a friend. Even a non-writer will pick out these types of errors.
2. Try not to use the same phrase over and over. . . . and over again, especially in the same paragraph, or even a few paragraphs nearby (unless you are doing so artistically, which is another matter). Most likely, you can cut out the repeats all together. If not, look from some new synonyms. These repeats become tedious and condescending. The exception would be children’s books, of course.
3. Don’t use the thesaurus just to make yourself appear more knowledgeable. If you are going to use a different word, make sure you know the true meaning of the word, since not all of the synonyms mean the same exact thing – you might end up sending a message you did not intend. Plus, listen to how the word sounds in the sentence to ensure it isn’t awkward in the voice, and that it suits your individual style. Throwing in an archaic or uncommon term doesn’t make you look smarter if it doesn’t make sense to the reader.
4. I find this problem even in so called “professional” books: Make sure that if someone leaves the room, they don’t join in the conversation a few sentences later. I catch that so many times and have to reread the page to make sure I’m not losing my mind.
5. Don’t make your book too long. When I first started writing and researching information on getting published, I read that a first novel should be about 75,000 words. I had 175,000. So I cut, slashed, and rewrote to pare down to 109,000 words or 270 pages (and decided to write a sequel). When a book’s plot starts dragging on, or it takes too long to get to the main plot of the story, or the action lags, your reader might lose interest. Examine your scenes and make the tough decision – Does this further my story or is it just background information? Sometimes the same info can be summed up in a few sentences within another, more relevant scene. Other times, it just has to be dumped all together. Personally, I save all of these bits, and I have posted some of them on this blog as short stories.
These points all come from experience both reading and writing. If this brings you a step closer to achieving you writing goals, more power to you!