I don’t know about you, but I find it far harder to edit my own story than to write it in the first place. The problem is, I’m happy with the way I’ve written it, and when you read your own work you’re blind to mistakes. Lots of people have written lots of useful advice on editing and critiquing. I don’t claim to be very good at it, but I thought I’d share my experiences.
Hopefully, if you’ve used a decent word processor, any obvious spelling mistakes will be picked up, so you shouldn’t need to worry about that. The problem is when you’ve made up names of people or planets, or created new words to describe some amazing piece of technology. The spellchecker highlights them every time, so then you don’t notice when you’ve spelled one wrong. I always add new words to the dictionary to avoid this happening, after being caught out several times.
The other thing your spellchecker doesn’t spot is malapropisms, where you’ve accidentally used the wrong word. A grammar checker would pick it up, but I don’t like using them as they never like anything I write!
So, now you’ve checked it says what you intended, there are a couple of things I’ve found that help me spot things that need changing. One is to leave the manuscript for a couple of weeks before looking at it again, the other is to read it out loud. That way you’ll more easily notice:
• Sentences that made sense at the time but now just seem gibberish
• Word echoes – using the same word repeatedly
• Tautology – saying the same thing twice
• Pointlessness - explaining things irrelevant to the plot
• Dullness – whole swathes of text where nothing happens
• Info dump – explaining the physics / history behind your story in one big paragraph
• Technobabble – info dump disguised as dialogue
• Other dull dialogue that adds nothing to the story
If you remove all of the above and discover that you have nothing left, it can be a bit disheartening.
Now it’s time to look at the word count. Every story must be as long as it needs to be to tell the tale, but you’ll find that it gets more difficult to find suitable markets as your manuscript gets longer. So now comes the most difficult bit. What else can you cut out without compromising the flow of the story? I know. You don’t want to cut out any of your lovingly crafted prose. So to make it easier, join a critiquing group where somebody you don’t know will go through your newly refined story and hack it to pieces all over again.
It’s all for your own good!