Five Editing Tips That Work for Me

Trudging through the revisions for my YA mystery, I’ve used five editing tips that work for me and hopefully will help you through this exasperating and rewarding process.

Edit in small chunks of time.

When I sit down to micro-edit, which is the analysis of each word to make sure it’s pulling its full weight, I have to set a time limit. I find the micro-edit so brain draining that I can’t keep it up for long. If I work for longer than an hour, I’m not nearly as focused or imaginative. I’ll gloss over sections just to say I’ve reviewed them. I take a half hour break before I do another round of micro-editing.

Keep a thesaurus or Google handy.

I have a tendency to use certain words over and over when I’m writing my first draft. In chapter six, my characters may have “looked” four times. I need to find synonyms. Or determine if all of the characters really need to “look” all those times. Maybe they should use a different action.

When editing becomes a chore, change it up.

Because my novel is 90,000 words, I’ve been editing on my computer and was beginning to dread the process. My usual practice is to print a copy, make edits on the paper, and put the corrections into the computer. My eyes have been suffering from a lot of strain because of all the screen time. So recently, I printed sections of my novel. Editing from paper rejuvenated my creativity, making me want to renew my editing efforts.

Check the first word of every paragraph on a page.

This is a trick I learned from agent Cyle Young. He said that, ideally, the first word of every paragraph on a page should be different. Often, that’s impossible for me, since I write in first person. But the technique slows me down as I edit and forces me to analyze the structures of my sentences, helping me create a vary their length and style.

Too many of my paragraphs start like this:

I sighed, running my hand through my hair.

If it makes sense and doesn’t hurt the flow of my narrative, I reverse it:

Running my hand through my hair, I sighed.

or

Sighing, I ran my hand through my hair.

Check dialogue tags.

I have a lot of dialogue as my teen detective investigates who is leaving threatening notes at her apartment. I check to make sure every “said” is needed. Does “said” work in a particular situation or is an action tag better?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Might be better if it was:

“I don’t know.” He flung our his arms.

or

“I don’t know.” He fingered his mustache.

Action tags are often better than “said” but not always. Too much action, and readers can’t imagine all the movements the characters are performing.

Action tags also detract from certain conversations. When my teen detective has a serious discussion with her father, I let the dialogue carry the scene as much as I could, dropping in action tags only so readers are grounded in the scene and can keep straight who’s speaking.

What editing tips have worked for you?

Three Styles of Editing

Sorry this is so late. I thought I’d scheduled it to post when I hadn’t.

Editing a novel is tough work. So many elements have to mesh together to make a coherent, entertaining, and meaningful story. As I edit my YA novel, I’ve considered three styles of editing.

Read through novel like a reader.

This style helps you check for big picture problems, like narrative flow and sense. Author Stephanie Morrill in Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel writes that she uses this method while keeping a pad handy to note big changes she wants to make once she’s read the entire manuscript.

This sounded good to me, but when I tried it, I found it very difficult not to stop and make changes as I came across them because a change in chapter four would affect the way I evaluated the rest of the manuscript. I thought it was more efficient to make changes as I discovered them.

Treat each chapter as a short story.

I like this approach because I love reading and writing short stories. To start this method, I decide what the purpose of a chapter is and determine if it meets its goal by analyzing each component. Is the setting described enough or too much? How about the characters? If I have character charts that list their appearances, personalities, and mannerisms, I should pull them out. Does the dialogue sound realistic and appropriate to each character? Are my characters running off at the mouth or are their exchanges so brief as to confuse readers? Then I analyze the plot. Is it moving forward, stalling, or grinding to a halt?

The problem with this editing style is that each chapter may sparkle but might not flow into the next one, giving the novel a choppy or disconnected feel. Once I’ve edited each chapter, I need to read big chunks, like five to ten chapters in a sitting, to determine if the chapters are woking together.

Edit each element.

In this style, I focus on one element, such as setting, and read through the entire manuscript, only fixing problems about that component. Then I read it again with characters in mind. And again for plot, theme, and whatever other writing techniques I want to polish.

The drawback I see with this approach is that going through the novel so many times might make me blur over sections because I’m too familiar with them.

Next week, I’ll write more about what I’ve found to work for me. Writers, what’s your style of editing?

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