Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Red Ink, the Necessary Evil

And evil it is, isn't it? This thing we call *shudder* editing. Just thinking of it is enough to make a writer wince in horror. We've heard so many tips from authors and editors about how to edit--which way is best and what you should never ever do. There is so much out there on the subject that I got a headache trying to find the best tips to give you all.

Still, out of all the information out there, I noticed three pieces of advice that popped up repeatedly. So I'll share those with you :)

1.) When you think you're ready to edit, hide your MS.

That's right. When you're done writing out this incredible story and are about to get down to the nitty gritty--stop! Put it away. Go ahead and celebrate if you want. You go right ahead and go a little crazy. You've finished it! But don't start editing it right away. One agent who actually responded personally to a query of mine gave me this advice:
"A lot of new writers make the mistake of beginning the editing process before the ink is even dry. Take the time to let it simmer and then go over it."
Basically--If you're still in love with it, then it's not time yet.
He explained how love is blind. Not just in reality, but also when it comes to our writing. We're likely to miss things we'd otherwise notice. The plot is still too fresh in your mind--you won't be able to see the flaws for what they are. So tuck it into a different folder and let it ferment a little. Go work on something else.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King also gives this advice. (I highly recommend this book btw. Easy to read and filled with some great advice.)

2.) Don't just edit on the computer. Print out your MS and do it manually.

OH YEAH. I felt a little pain at that one. I am cheap. I don't like printing things out unless absolutely necessary--ink is expensive!--so thinking about my 200 pages sliding from my printer...yikes.
Is it worth it?
I know it's so much easier to hit delete on your keyboard or just insert a quick line or two with a few simple taps from your fingers--and you should definitely still use the spell check!--but you should really do this. There's just something about holding a physical form of your story. Reading it from paper with a red pen in hand--you'll catch things you probably wouldn't on a computer screen.

3.) Have someone read your MS aloud, or do it yourself.

This is why a Beta reader comes in handy but it doesn't have to be them who does this. You can ask a friend. A really, really, patient friend. Heh heh.
There's always a certain way we 'hear' things when we write them--this is your chance to sound it out. It helps give your story a voice and you to hear what sounds right and what sounds like UGH. :)
You also get to experiment with the different voices your characters have. If they have an accent--does your writing show that? Do they stutter? Do they rush their words?
What about those funny lines you put in there? Still funny?
Even if you do this throughout the writing process, take the time to do it again with the MS as a whole.

Other things to watch for...

Dialogue attributes-- Oh we're all guilty of them. I am a dialogue attribute whore. My characters purr, retort, snort, bark, yelp, (and any other word you can think of) up the wall. While those attributes are all well and good, it gets a little annoying when you see them in every other line of dialogue. Yeah...I'm working on it.

Plot Lines-- Are they all resolved? Did you forget one?

Obvious no-nos--
  • Jamie stormed away, taking the child with her. (with her? if she took the child--of course he/she is with her)
  • She kissed him with those tempting lips of hers. (oh, I thought they were someone elses lips...thanks for the clarification)
  • *this one is taken from an editor's rant session* Harry nodded his head. (as opposed to his elbow?)  *LOL*
Tension-- Is it in the right place? Is it there at all?

Love Scenes-- Please don't just have them to have them. There must be a reason for it. If it doesn't change your characters' relationships or move the plot forward--it's just sex. Not a good thing unless you're writing porn. Then by all means...continue.

Oh there are more...just thought I'd point out some of the big ones ha ha.

Remember that weak writing is bad writing. Give it your best and then some. Be evil with that red pen because if you aren't--an editor will.

Happy Writing!


  1. So true! Didn't know that firt one. Hide my MS? Hmm..yeah I see how that could work. Thanks for the tips :)

  2. Great post! Oh I think everyone could benefit from taking a look at this. I really like the topics you choose :)



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