Every book, every story, every poem, needs to be edited. Edited, proofread, reread, and edited again. There’s no way around it. When you are writing from the heart, the story pumping through your veins comes out faster than you can type, and you’re bound to make mistakes. You should make mistakes. Everything can be corrected at a later date. Getting the story out is the most important part.
Editing is the most tedious part. The most stressful part.
And every book needs a hard edit.
Spelling. Did you spell everything right? Spellcheck does a great job of finding “theer” instead of “their.” But it could care less if you used “their,” “there,” or “they’re.” Pay attention to your sentences. Double check people’s names, cities, restaurants. It’s so easy to type a street name in Chapter 2 and be typing so fast that you spell it differently in Chapter 8.
Sentence Structure. Are they full sentences? Some writers try to do the fragment treatment to their sentences. I tried that style in some of my writings. But you have to be sure of what you’re doing. If in doubt, always write in full sentences. Every sentence.
Punctuation. You’ve read my blog rants. Too many semi-colons, hyphens, and ellipses. Too many commas in one sentence. I make myself crazy. Use the “find” button on your computer and type in ; or “as if” or a name and see how many times you’ve actually used the same word/symbol. You’ll be amazed.
Writing/speaking habits. Remember that words in books are different than words in conversation. In writing we tend to slip and start (or end) a paragraph with the same phrases. As if, if only, and then, she said, it seemed, it seemed as if. There are undoubtedly more. Those were my mistakes. Pay attention to how you start and end your sentences.
Run on sentences. If your sentence has a half dozen commas and lots of ands and ifs, it’s too long. Readers need to read as they speak. They need to take a breath. So do you.
Paragraphs. This can be a tricky one. I just finished reading Lost Horizons by James Hilton. Most of his paragraphs are very long. They are usually descriptions of the same thought or location. Nothing wrong with that. But readers these days get mentally tired if they don’t hit a break in reading sooner than later. You can describe a place in three paragraphs as just as well as keeping everything in one.
Same is true for dialogue. Unless someone is giving a speech, break up their oration with paragraphs. Try and make your breaks every time you change thoughts or make a new point. You do know how to make new paragraphs in dialogue, don’t you? (no quote marks at end of paragraph; quotes at the beginning of the next.)
To Chapter or Not to Chapter. I find this more of a personal preference based on how you write. Many people read in spurts; at lunch time, before bed, or on the subway to work. Readers enjoy chapters that can be finished in three to thirteen minutes. Some books have dozens of short chapters, some have a few huge chapters (usually referred to as sections), and some have no chapters at all.
No-chapter books usually just flow from beginning to end. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, but the scenes blend into each other. Chapters are usually written as different segments of the same story; one “relates” to the next, but they are single stories unto themselves. One chapter is boy meets girl. Next chapter is girl at home thinking about boy. Next chapter is boy getting in trouble with parents. Next chapter are memories of a bad relationship cropping up. Next chapter is the boy and girl meeting and having coffee. You know what I mean. The most important thing is that the reader crave reading the next chapter, and if they don’t/can’t, they can pick up the story later.
Non-fiction needs chapters. Each point you want to make, each stage of instruction, needs its own chapter. Even biographies need a break between “happenings” so that the reader can see the progression.
Spelling. I know I sound like a broken record. But how many times are you reading an article or book or newspaper clipping and right there in the middle of everything is a SPELLING ERROR? It makes you shiver. So make sure your streets and towns and people and exotic foods are spelled correctly. It sounds so mundane, but finding a spelling error in the middle of the book sounds more like a scream than a whisper. Trust me.
Once you do your first edit, let your book sit.
I know that’s hard. Very hard. You want to reread Chapter 5 and Chapter 23, tweak and delete and add and ebb and flow. But you will be surprised what you will find if you let it sit a day or two. Week or two. I know I was.
Grammar and punctuation can make or break a great story. Make sure you have caught your faux pas. You also will be able to catch sections that don’t quite fit, find characters that didn’t quite act the way you wanted them to, even be able to drop in an additional chapter to connect A to B better.
Remember. You want this presentation to be the best of you. Editors, publishers, proofreaders don’t want to read a piece that really needs work. You know it, they know it, and they won’t give you the time of day if you don’t polish your story with as much enthusiasm as you put into writing it.