Welcome to part 2 of the How to Edit Your Book series, Going Cold, Then Going Bold. For some of you this next part will be easy. For others, perhaps a little more difficult, but either way it’s an important part of the process.
Back in October 2012 I finished up with some major revamps with SHADE and decided it was time to put it into cold storage. What this means is you lock it in a drawer (physical or digital) and leave it alone, untouched. For a full manuscript, I’d recommend a month if at all possible. You can use that time to get in some reading—very important to increasing your writing skills. Or you could work on short stories, another project, or try tackling the always looming query letter. Never hurts to get an early start on these things.
The reason why you want to leave it alone is the longer you’re away from your project the more clear any errors and plot holes will become when you start editing it again. While writing the vision of your world is clear as crystal in your head, but not always that clear on paper. Getting away will help your vision tell you how well of an accounting you made on paper.
Once you’ve given it awhile to chill, time to pull it back out and get ready to hack and slash. At this point I wouldn’t send it to beta readers or friends because you want to give them the strongest manuscript possible so they’re looking at a project cleared of errors you’ve already been able to spot. There are a number of ways you can do this. Here’s the way I get it done.
Font change. I heard at a writers conference that you should write in Times New Roman and edit in Arial (or another san serif font). Why? When your brain has seen something the same way repeatedly it probably won’t notice glaring mistakes. But when you do something as simple as a font change, you’d be surprised how your errors can jump out of the page on you. For those that don’t know the difference between serif and san serif fonts:
Backwards. Another technique I employ which has helped me immensely is editing backward. You can do this in two ways:
- Start on page 260, then 259, then 258, 257, 256, etc.
- Or do it by chapter. Either completely in reverse or the way I do it, which is the last page of Chapter One to the first, then last page of Chapter Two to the first, etc.
The reason I prefer the second is I’m still progressing through the book mostly chronologically, so I’m still seeing the story building. Although I probably should do a last chapter to first chapter read through. Hmmm…
Aloud. If you thought I meant read the whole story out loud while you’re editing, well, you’d be absolutely right. Yep. Out loud. Every word. Yes, it does take a long time.
I had SHADE professionally edited a while back, and something the editor encouraged me to do was to read aloud. She went chapter by chapter with me and could always tell when I’d sent her something I hadn’t read aloud. (Unfortunately I employed an editor too soon, because I’ve made major revisions since then. But I don’t regret it, I learned A LOT about writing and have improved mightily because of it. More on professional editing in a future post.)
Word Economize. Let’s say you finished your rough draft at 101,347 words. Here’s the thing, for most new authors agents are going to squirm at anything above 100,000 because for the most part your story doesn’t need to be that long. And if it is, it may need to be two books instead of one.
At the beginning of 2012 I had SHADE at 77,000 words or so and was pretty proud of myself. For a YA Fantasy that’s a decent mark. But after the Backspace Conference I decided it needed revamping, and it ended up at 98,000.(Still under 100,000. Woot!)
I’d changed the story a lot, but after having my Pitch Wars mentor look it over, she pointed out I was trying to add too many new story elements, especially at the end. A first novel like that should simplify the plot. Think about Harry Potter. They don’t go to Hogsmeade until Book 3. They don’t really even leave Hogwarts at all in Book 1. Keep it simple.
After much thought, I was able to bring it down to 87,000 and eliminated scenes that were making the book too complicated. I’m much happier with this slimmer-trimmer version. So, while editing, look for instances where you can cut out words. Some words you can usually trim:
- could – Especially when it’s could hear, could see, etc. Just say they heard it, they saw it.
- just – 90% of the time you
justdon’t need it. (See what I did there!)
- started to/seemed to/apparently/that – Again, most of the time you don’t need these.
- attribution – Look at your dialogue tags. If it’s obvious who’s speaking, cut the “(blank) said.”
Remember, a writer chooses their words wisely. If one word can do the job of three, use the one. Make yourself a goal to trim out an amount, and even look for whole scene you can cut. They’re there. Don’t be afraid to GO BOLD!
Now you have some techniques available, and lots of work ahead of you. (Trust me, I’ve read my book aloud at least 3 times if not more, and I’m sure I’ll be doing it again soon). Cut it down, polish it up and make it beautiful!
Tomorrow join me for the next piece of our editing series, Beta Read? Time to Bleed.
Anything I missed? What editing techniques do you employ that you find helpful? Are you in the midst of major revisions right now or is it time for cold storage? Let me know in the comments.