Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rewrites and Edits

I don't know if everyone does, but I make a distinction between rewrites and edits. Perhaps it is one of my post-draft survival strategies to divide this next part into manageable tasks.

I prefer rewrites. By my definition, rewrites are content editing; taking sections that simply don't work and rewriting them - you know, that thing that some people like to do during the first draft. These are things I focus on during rewrites: (no particular order)

Sequence - are things happening in the best order? Do scenes need to be rearranged? Have I 'time traveled,' do people appear out of nowhere, have I told too much or too little at the wrong time?

Pace - is the pace of the scene correct and the overall pace of the novel fitting?

Characters - are they interesting? Do they stay in character? When they behave 'out of character' is there a good reason and do I pull it off?

Dialogue - do the characters have their own voice or does everyone speak the same? Does it move the story forward or are they just talking?

Best Word - I made that up, but it means to make sure you've used the best word to say what you meant. Beta reading can help with this, but it is more than clarity. This has to do with not using big words to show off. It means that you wrote like a writer, not an everyday person. That there is some creative genius at work. Same goes for sentences and paragraphs - is that the best it can be stated? It also means not overusing words.

Overall Appeal - does the story move forward or have I gone off on a side track that isn't part of a sub-plot? More on this when I blog about beta readers.

FORMAT: I didn't mention this in the title, but this is a third thing that comes during the post-draft phase. When I don't feel up to doing content editing or regular (grammar) editing, I look at format. I have never known a first time writer who stopped and set up the format correctly before starting to write. Generally, we start off with our word processing program set to its default settings. Believe me, you'll only do this once.

Even if we knew to adjust the settings to manuscript form, there are other little things to watch too. Use the new search window I added to the sidebar and search for 'format' for the list. Add to that list to turn OFF widows and orphans. Also if you use MS Word, turn off that thing that puts an extra blank line between paragraphs. That is not the correct fiction format and don't argue with me on this.

Here are some of the 'human error' formatting things that occur during the writing of an ms. Use 'find' or 'search' in your software program to look for places where there are double (or more) spaces between sentences or words. Every space should be only one space. The software reads things differently from how we learned to type on a typewriter. There is a feature where the spaces can be revealed (usually looks like a dot midair in the text). Also remove the extra space at the end of a paragraph.

If you had wacky things happen to the format during the first time through making changes, you have to fix them with computer commands. The most common errors are using the space bar for indents. Set the tab for 3 spaces and use the 'tab' rather than the spacebar or you will get uneven indents. Centering chapter titles has to be done with the center text function, not tabs or spacebar to eyeball it to the center. The end of every chapter has to have a page break. Do not use enter to get to the top of the new page. All of that 'wrong' stuff has to be removed.

Trust me, if the ms looks neat (and the correct format) it is more likely to be read. You simply have to learn the functions of your software. I work with other writers in MS Word, but personally, I use WordPerfect. It is more sophisticated with its commands, especially with its reveal codes.

Now the editing part. Because I'm dyslexic, this is my least favorite part. This is line editing. It is likely that most of the noun-verb agreements were caught when you read aloud. Commas were added where you took a breath and epic sentences where made into two or three shorter ones. Make sure every sentence ends with punctuation. You'd be surprised how often they are missed, especially at the end of a paragraph - this includes dialogue. Only one punctuation per sentence end, none of this business "!?" got it? And watch that exclimation mark. Try to force yourself to remove all of them that are not in dialogue.

I go for the big stuff because I hire a line editor when I'm finished, really finished messing with the ms. Not spending the money on a line editor is like building a house and not painting it or not planting the yard. If you need a really good and reasonably priced line editor or proof reader, email me and I'll give you a name.

So now, you've gone through it three more times. The format run through is a no brainer, but it is intense to get it all correct. Don't forget scene breaks that aren't the start of a new chapter.

Now you're ready for beta readers. Whew, finally.


  1. All of this is very good advice and I recommend every writer, even if you think you know it all, to copy and paste so that you have it as a check list.

  2. OMGosh, Glyn. I promise to get this stuff put on my website. I'm a bit busy moving house.

    None of this is new stuff. I hope it encourages people. It isn't too hard to take a good ms to a great one. It just takes some time and a bit of honest eyes.