Last week I was asked to do a last-minute editing workshop for Year Nines (13-14). With little time to prepare and not much information on what they wanted or expected from me, I had to come up with something quick and adaptable.
I’m currently eighty hours into the editing process of my latest novel so I have a good idea of what is involved. I’ve even written a few blogs on the process.
The internet is awash with good, and probably bad, advice on the subject of editing so I had to go in with something personal. Things that work for me and aren’t always the most obvious.
In no particular order, here they are.
Ten editing tips to take your work to the next level.
Every word counts.
Should it be there? Try removing it. What happens?
Don’t use longer words to appear clever. I was once asked how many long words I put in a novel to make me sound clever. The simple answer is none. If that is your intention, you are going to fail. By all means use a thesaurus but only use a word if it is appropriate and improves your work.
Look at punctuation, what happens if you change it? A simple change from full stop to comma can have a big impact. Get rid of exclamation marks. They are ugly! They do have their uses but use them sparingly. Any more than a couple per novel is overdoing it.
Look at repetition. Is it intentional? If not, think about removing it. I once read a book and it used a lovely word ‘discombobulated’. It has a fantastic rhythm to it and paints a picture however it did distract me from what I was reading because it was unusual.
I didn’t mind as it was a great word and we all need great words in our lives. Then it was used again, and again and again and it became so annoying that I wanted to hurl the book out of the window.
Read it out loud.
Nobody enjoys doing this unless they are a frustrated actor but it is something that gives you a quick insight into how it reads for others.
Get friends to read it out loud. If they stumble over words they may need changing. (The words, not the friends.)
Record on a smartphone and playback. Change wording and repeat process.
Listen to the above audiorecording from Leg It by Alan Parkinson here.
Rhythm is important in prose as well as poetry.
Change sentence lengths. What happens?
Think about songs. How are sentences structured? Try shuffling words around and see if it makes a difference.
I have great little exercise using The Smiths lyrics but I didn’t get a chance to use it in my workshop. I may share it one day.
A pet hate of mine that I’ve mentioned many times but do a search for words ending in ‘ly’. Are they necessary? With a little bit of thought I’m sure you could come up with something stronger and remove the adverb altogether.
A common trait amongst new writers is to try and crowbar in as many different ways of saying ‘said’. I did in my first novel but dialogue should speak for itself. As long as you know who is speaking, anything else is unnecessary. The odd ‘whispered’ or ‘shouted’ may be acceptable but we don’t need to know that people ‘laughed’ their dialogue or ‘intoned’ it.
Binary words / redundant adjectives.
This article by Man Booker Prize winner, George Saunders has been doing to rounds recently. His novel and short stories may be great but I find his advice a little long winded and noticed something that didn’t feel right to me.
He uses the phrase ‘most essential’. ‘Essential’ is binary, either something is essential or it isn’t. Something can’t be more essential than something else. Similar mistakes happen with things like ‘very unique’. Have a think about what words mean and whether they need an adjective.
Run through spell and grammar check on UK settings. Microsoft Word defaults to US and no matter how many times you tell it you are in the UK, it will try and repatriate itself.
Get friends to proof read.
Change font size and type and look again. Do you notice anything different?
Print off in size and font you plan to use. Does anything stand out?
It’s important to remember that this is only advice, there’s always more than one way to do something. It’s vital that whatever you do, the work remains in your voice and true to yourself. Don’t try and edit the life out of something to please others. It’s your name going on the front cover so ensure it’s as good as it can be.
I can guarantee that I will have made mistakes in this article, feel free to point them out, I won’t be offended. It’s all part of the process.
Please add any comments on your top editing tips or let me know if you disagree with any of my advice.