“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”
Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery
This is a comprehensive question and subject, so for the sake of blogging brevity I am writing a four-part series of short posts to address it properly.
You can do the obvious things, like checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Everyone uses spell-check these days, but that is no guarantee you do not have “wrong” words in your manuscript. Spell-check will not correct things like “too” where it should be “to,” or “then” when it should be “than,” or “you” where “your” should be. So there is no substitute for good old-fashioned reading your manuscript with a critical eye. After completing a first draft, put it away for at least a week--two is better--or even a month. Work on something else and/or read other authors for a while. Then pull it out and read it with fresh eyes.
Look for these glaring turnoffs:
• Excessive use of italics for internal dialog, especially in the first three chapters. Rewrite in such a way as to let the reader know these are the character's thoughts.
• Overuse of sentence fragments as “style” elements.
• Overuse of exclamation points! It makes your writing sound like a constantly barking dog!
• Overuse of question marks? As with exclamation points, they are strong punctuations. Do not overuse them. It is considered amateurish. Where “What did you say, John” will do, do not write, “What did you say, John?”--unless there is some reason for the redundancy made obvious by the context.
• Overuse and/or misuse of commas. You will find dozens of excellent tutorials online on this subject. Do a Google search, bone up, and make corrections.
This ends lesson number one. Tune in to this blog for the remaining tutorials soon to come. While I will not be addressing the more advanced editing chores of subjects like character inconsistencies (or the need to eliminate a character), poor paragraph and sentence structure, time-line inconsistencies, and plot confusion, I will cover the majority of what a publishing-house editor pulls his or hair out over when receiving a what-could-be-a-good book fraught with obvious no-no’s.