Before I get started, there is a book giveaway contest over on Medeia Sharif's Blog. Scroll down to the April 9th entry. Contest ends on the 15th.
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A few weeks ago I went to a class on editing by Hannah Tinti. Not only is she an author of an award-winning novel, she is also editor-in-chief of the literary magazine One Story.
Some people love to edit (me). Some people hate it (Creepy QG). For a book, it can be a daunting prospect. How do you start?
First Draft (Let ’er rip):
1. In the beginning, turn off the internal editor and vomit forth the story. Yes, it may be a disgusting mess, but that’s what editing if for. Spew! You know you want to.
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2. After some time has passed, sit back and read your glorious, messy thang. Then reread again and take notes. Plot, characters, pacing and themes. Yes, it’s time to dissect this baby.
3. Cut anything that doesn’t propel the plot forward. Be merciless. Or, if you’re feeling faint at the prospect, cut and paste to another file. (Wimp.)
4. Add scenes or expand characters as necessary. Did your baby come with too many toes or not enough?
5. Start to bring the writing up to the level of the strongest parts. I know you pat your back over certain areas and skip over others. Stop ignoring that slop and fix it.
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6. Read again. Did the changes in the second draft make it better or worse? Does the unchanged material deserve to remain so?
7. Start line edits and look hard at the grammar.
Grammar matters. If you don’t believe me consider the brouhaha that went down in Twitterverse over a self-published author’s bad grammar. Editors are looking for reasons to say no. Don’t make it easy for them to reject your work. Keep your Strunk and White (or The Chicago Manual of Style) by the computer. Don’t drop the Chicago one on your foot though—that sucker’s heavy.
Here’s some typical head-scratchers:
a) Semi-colons. Each side must be a complete sentence linked by a greater idea.
b) The em-dash. Used for asides—when a character’s thoughts are jumping around—or in place of a semi-colon.
c) Colon. Both sides are equal: they mean the same thing.
d) Learn the difference between it’s and its. The former is a contraction for it is; the latter is a possessive. It’s a shame about that cat. I can’t find its tooth.
e) Breath vs. breathe. The former is a noun, the latter a verb. To sing Sting’s Every Breath You Take, you must breathe between verses.
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f) Adverbs. Ah yes, the potato chips of writing. It’s hard to stop at just one! It’s lazy writing—a tell versus a show. But I must say, I nearly laughed when Ms. Tinti followed her hatred of adverbs with the comment—and I'm not making this up—“Occasionally, they can be used correctly.” Surely, you must be joking.
g) Use search and replace with caution. Suppose you decide the name Bob isn’t sexy enough for your leading man. You change it to Boone. Guess what? Your characters are now enjoying shish kaBoones at their summer picnic and ridding Boonesleighs at the winter carnival. Not cool. Plus you forgot that Bob’s mother calls him Robert.
4th Draft: Yes, it’s time to show this baby off.
1) When listening to a critique, shut your mouth. Do not let the urge to justify your work turn off your ears.
2) Ask the reader what they remembered, where the story got confusing, and what they think the story is about.
3) Cry, if needed.
Image courtesy: Arturo J. Paniagua
Any nuggets of the editing process that you’d like to share? How many grammatical errors are in this document?