Self-Editing Your Story and The Final Draft
Your story is finished. Or is it? Before you send it to a publisher, check firstly that your story makes sense! If you have used the step-by-step method I described earlier in this ebook, hopefully you will not have a mountain of editing to get through. Yet no matter how careful you've been, how strictly you have stuck to your plot sheets, there's always that little something that slips through.
It can be hard and you need to be tough with yourself, casting an editor's eye - not that of a writer - over your work. So what is there to look for when editing and how do you go about it?
The first thing to do is to print your story out onto paper. Don't ask me why but editing just doesn't seem to work the same if you do it on your computer or word-processor. Try it by all means but I've never managed it! Then read your story. You might think this a waste of time - after all, you wrote it! - but I assure you that you'll find mistakes, typos and a host of other little mistakes.
They're easy to correct. Mark them in pencil as you go along. When you have finished your read through it's time to begin editing in earnest. You will have almost certainly noticed plotting errors and the usual howlers present in every first draft (I speak from experience!) but here's a rundown of vital points to check off during the editing process.
1. Do your characters behave as they should? Remember that, in fiction, people seldom if ever act 'out of character' - if your character has changed, this needs attention.
2. Do your characters react to each other as they should? Events in your story may well change the feelings and emotions your characters display towards each other. Do they mention events that have happened to them within the story? Real people would - your characters should follow suit.
3. Will it be obvious to the reader what the characters are doing - and why they are doing it? This needs to be made clear to the reader otherwise the 'thread' of the story may be lost altogether, your reader will become confused - and the story, for them, is over.
4. Do your characters react believably to circumstances? Again, this goes back to character action - don't have a character brush off a situation if their character sheet says they would go berserk with rage at a given event - if this is evident, your plotting needs to be looked at. Don't change your character's reactions to paper over cracks in the plot!
5. Does your story timeline run true? It's very easy to have someone in two places at once if you're not in control of this critical thread. If you have a sub-plot, or, worse still, several sub-plots running, this can rapidly spiral out of control. Use a timeline record to help you control event timing, i.e. '10 pm Monday - Jake and Sally at Harry's bar. Big Mike robbing bank.' This ensures that Jake and Big Mike don't 'meet up' somewhere at that hour!
Checking the above points will take time, effort and dedication. However, if you do not ensure that your story makes sense according to the points above, the only time you waste will be your own. Why? Simple. Editors today do not expect - and indeed will not tolerate - stories that simply don't 'hang together'. The days of droves of sub-editors making good your sloppy work are well and truly gone.
So - edit and re-edit. Be brutal. Be honest with yourself and your work and you will be streets ahead of those who do not take the time and effort that you do. Writing fiction is hard work - it's up to you to make certain your work is the best it can be.
Don't forget that you must scrutinize your writing style at the same time as checking your plotting and so forth. In particular check the following:
Spelling: This may seem obvious but it needs to be done. Don't rely on a computer spellchecker. It cannot spot the difference between the common mistakes such as lose/loose, their/there/they're, bough/bow and so on because though the words may be out of context they are spelled correctly. If your spelling is not too strong then this is the time to get the story proof-read by someone whose spelling is first-rate.
Grammar: It's often a good thing to read a passage and strike out every single unnecessary word, particularly adverbs and adjectives. In the case of adverbs, try using a stronger verb. Rather than 'The man walked slowly down the road' try 'The man strolled down the road'. The same advice goes for adjectives. An adjective often covers a weak noun, for example 'heavy rain' could be better described as a 'downpour' or 'cloudburst'.
Redundancies: Words that do nt add to the story or passage in any way. 'The sky overhead' 'a little baby' 'dropped down' and so on. Redundancies should always be removed and doing this will invariably improve your story.
Cliches: Unless present for a definite purpose, avoid cliches like the plague (sorry!). Getting rid of this example and others like 'Pearly-white teeth' or 'eys glinting like diamonds' will make your readers a lot happier!
This ebook does not pretend to be anything approaching a comprehensive manual on writing style and usage of grammar, both of which are vast subjects in their own right. However, the following books should be useful on the subject:
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 14th. Ed., 1993)
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 10th. Ed., 1993)
A recent copy of Roget's Thesaurus
'Elements of Style', Strunk, William Jr., and White, E.B. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 3rd. Ed., 1979)
Now for a look at agents & publishers
Index page 1. Necessary equipment. 2. The importance of the workplace 3. Choosing the right book for you to write. 4. Ideas and how to get them. 5. How to plan a story. 6. How to make characters come to life. 7. Plotting your story. 9. Agents and Publishers 10. Writers' groups. 11. Writing competitions. 12. Reference works.