Writing the first draft of your book is very often the tip of your iceberg. Before you even get down to the submerged parts (OK, I’ll stop this metaphor now), there are several basic things to do. Editing is top of that list.
So what is editing?
Editing has come to mean various things over the years, and even within different publishing houses, the term can be used to cover a multitude of individual tasks. Within newspapers and periodicals, the terminology shifts still further.
But let’s not get bogged down there today. In so far as it relates to what you, the author, can do at the drafting stage, ‘editing’ is:
Copy editing: This is the stage where you check that what you’ve written makes grammatical sense. Is that brilliant idea conveyed in a way that people can actually understand it? Do your subjects and verbs agree? Is there a consistency of style? A key example of what to look out for here is what kind of English you’re using. Is it American English, British English, or the beautiful Irish hybrid that is Hiberno English? This will have all sorts of impact on grammar as well as spelling. Consider this sentence.
In British English: Shall we take the dog for a walk?
And now in ‘Irish English’: Will we bring the dog for a walk?
Neither’s wrong. In fact, they’re both right. But what matters is consistency. If you’re writing in one form of English or another, stick with it and readers won’t be distracted by it. If you keep flicking between different spellings of ‘color’ and ‘colour’, to use another example, or ‘I’m on holiday’, ‘I’m on holidays’, and ‘I’m on vacation’, you’ll lose your reader’s attention. As I doubtless have here.
Proof reading: Often confused with copy editing, proof reading is the science of going through a manuscript with a fine tooth comb to make sure that the correct letters are in each word, that all capital letters are where they should be, and that the book is, from a mechanical standpoint at least, error-free. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how quickly the brain corrects mistakes without us absorbing them. This is what proof reading aims to avoid. One ages-old trick for successful proof reading is to read the text backwards, so that you’re not fooled by the context of the individual words and can, instead, ascertain that they’re spelled correctly.
Structural edit: This is critical to your first draft. Does the story make sense? Are the characters coherent (and necessary)? Is the plot plausible? How’s the pacing? How’s the dialogue? Are there consistent themes throughout the book? How can we improve upon this?
So what are you looking for when you are editing your own work?
- A strong opening – the hook that will keep the reader turning the pages.
- Clear Point of View – ensure that you are not head hopping, that you stay in one characters POV, remember theyk, cannot know what another character is thinking, but they can see their facial movements and body language and interpret these.
- Show Don’t Tell – ensure you are using action and dialogue in each scene to move the plot forward and describe the scene.There are several excellent articles here at writing.ie that will help you with this.
- Believable dialogue: no information dumping or characters telling each other what they already know for the benefit of the reader. Read your dialogue outloud to ensure it flows. Try and convey, the way dialogue is delivered through the words spoken rather than using dialogue tags, adverbs or qualifiers (e.g. he bellowed, and see below the note on exclamation marks)
- Ensure the reader knows who is talking at all times
- Ensure there is conflict, resolution and change for every character
- Flashbacks – keep them short, use sparingly
- Check for the repetition of words/phrases or events – they can jar the reader out of the story
- Delete exclamation marks – the guideline is one per chapter
And make sure you use paragraphs – either block paragraphs with a full line between each one, or the first line of each new paragrah indented. Speech marks are also vital to show who is speaking and when.
As an author, it can be incredibly difficult to see inconsistencies in your own work, be they structural or typographical. Asking a friend to edit for you, or, better still, get your book professionally edited. Editing is critical to ensuring that your work is of the highest standard and won’t be viewed as ‘amateurish’ by potential readers and publishers. Editors and agents are looking for work that is polished.