Part 1 looked at five tips to use when it comes to editing, things such as waiting to finish the story before you edit, printing it out so you have a physical copy to look at or reading it aloud and so on, but here are five more hacks to help writers help themselves where editing is concerned, starting with hack number 6...
6. Keep a Continuity Sheet/Notebook
Similar to making notes, this is another tried and tested method that many writers use. A continuity sheet or notebook is a useful way to make sure that key details remain correct and consistent throughout the story - things like character names, place names, incidents, characteristics, colours, settings and clothing etc.
It’s easy to forget that your hero might be a blonde, blue-eyed stud because by chapter 25, after all the action and excitement of the story, he’s morphed into a man with brown hair and dark eyes. Or it could be that in chapter 3 he’s from a town called Oakley, but in chapter 7 it’s become Oakly. Perhaps a Grandfather clock - significant to a character or the plot, is mentioned in one chapter, only to vanish thereafter, never to be seen again.
Continuity errors crop up in all sorts of ways and they’re not always easy to spot. Make sure that place names are spelled correctly throughout, that names of certain things remain consistent, or that weapons or tools used by your characters remain constant. Make sure that significant things mentioned within the story – such as the Grandfather clock example - don’t vanish into thin air. Make sure the style and colours of garments and decoration etc. remain the same in scenes or chapters, make sure incidents don’t change detail halfway through the story.
The best way to catch these flaws is through a continuity sheet/notebook. It will help because while you are doing an initial read through, you can make a note of them by detailing the error and the page number, so that when you come to edit you can address them. That way, such errors won’t appear in the final version.
The little things really do make a big difference and they do matter, because if you don’t spot them, your reader certainly will.
7. Be Methodical – Don’t Rush
The world doesn’t stop revolving while you work hard at editing. Too many writers rush what is, in essence, the most important part of the writing process, and they end up making a hash of it.
There is no rush.
The key to a good edit is to be methodical. That means editing without constraints on time, so tackle it one chapter at a time, instead of setting a goal to do five chapters in a few hours because you just have to get it published right now.
No, you don’t have to do it right now. Better to be thorough with one chapter than be slapdash with five of them.
By not rushing, by being so focused, there is less chance to miss errors. That’s because taking the time with one chapter at a time makes you meticulous – you’ll spot silly mistakes, continuity errors, punctuation and grammar problems. You’ll see where you’ve missed information, where scenes need to be re-written. You will notice problems with characterisation, POV, tenses and so on. Everything will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
8. Don’t Exceed More Than Six Drafts
The reason this is advised is because there are only so many times you can revise and rewrite something before it turns into a mess.
There is no right or wrong here – the six drafts number is simply an average of what most writers tend to do – but it is sound advice that has been tried and tested. And that’s because if you do fewer drafts, you risk the work not quite being ready. More than the advisable number of drafts and you risk ruining the work because it has been edited too much and that leads to editing tip number 9...
9. Know When to Finish
There will come a time when you have to stop editing, we all know that. But ask any writer and they will always say that they think the process is never complete – there will always be something, always that comma that needs removing, that little word that needs replacing or that sentence needs one more tweak. In fact, without discipline, they might continue ad infinitum and eventually wreck the whole thing. That’s because we always know we can do that little bit better. But we also need to know when to stop before the work becomes something we barely recognise or dislike.
And that’s because there is no such thing as perfection.
In truth, when there are no more real errors, no more real plot flaws, no sentences to really change, no words to actually tweak anymore...it means you’ve finished. It’s time to let go.
10. The Essential Checklist
Finally, whatever the writer’s ability or experience, an at-a-glance list of things to look out will prove helpful, even for the most reluctant editors:
1. Finish writing first, then edit.
2. Leave it alone for several weeks.
3. Read through it.
4. Print out the manuscript
5. Read it aloud
6. Make thorough notes
7. Keep a continuity notebook or sheet
8. Be methodical and don’t rush. Editing takes time.
9. Try not to exceed six drafts; otherwise you may ruin the story.
10. Know when to stop editing.
Editing for some is a chore, but to others it’s a joy. I personally love the editing process – it’s when creativity really comes alive. It allows writers to push themselves beyond mediocre, to write something amazing, to delve beyond the surface and dive deep into another dimension in order to create the truly breathtaking.
Next week: Turning points – what are they and what do they do?