Monday, February 27, 2012

A Clue About Editing: It was the Author in the Study with the Knife

Let's face it, folks: EDIT is a four-letter word.

There's no getting around it. If you're a writer, there will come a time when you have to edit. And anyone who says editing their own work is easy is probably not doing it right!

Although editing is often a painful process, it's also a necessary one. It's the time where we hone our work, fixing spelling and grammatical errors, tightening up the plot, removing repetitive and redundant elements, toning down excessive description and ensuring consistency in the timeline. It's an author's chance to make a good story an excellent one.

Especially in the world of indie books, the editing process can't be overlooked. We don't have a team of professionals screening our books for flaws. Thus, we must rely on capable, honest critique partners and approach our own work with a red pen and heartless objectivity (something I'm still trying to develop). My fellow authors and I often joke about taking out a knife and hacking at our latest WIP...but it isn't an unrealistic comparison.

Here are a few self-editing tips I follow that I hope will prove helpful to other writers:

1. Put your hands up and back away from the keyboard. Very little gives us more perspective on our own work than putting it aside for a while and then revisiting it. Ideally, you should have someone reading and critiquing it while you're on this hiatus. That way, you can incorporate their helpful suggestions as you conduct your first round of edits.

2. Less is more. When going through your project, ask yourself, "Is this essential to the plot? Does it serve to further the story?" If it doesn't, no matter how beautifully written it is, cut it out.

3. Mind the passive voice. My first drafts often violate the passive voice rule. It's amazing how much stronger a sentence is when "was feeling" becomes "felt." Make those small changes and watch your work shine!

4. Create and maintain a timeline of events. Regardless of the type of story, a timeline is a very helpful device. I prefer a chapter-by-chapter model that lists the passage of time by the day. I've caught some big plot gaps this way.

5. Listen to yourself. When you've finished the first few rounds of edits (you do know there will be multiple edits required, right??), read the story out loud. Pay attention to words that are used a lot--even in dialogue tags--and ensure that each of your characters speak in the voice you intended.

These are only a few tips for editing your own work. I'll mention that the best thing you can do is hire a professional editor, though not everyone has the funds to do so. Regardless of your approach to editing, if you take pride in your work, your readers will certainly notice!

To round out this post, I thought I'd offer up a deleted scene from my book Becoming. My first major revision of a book was when I cut out the first three chapters of Becoming and completely rewrote them. It broke my heart, but I'd received feedback from more than one reader that the story took too long to get started, so I simply couldn't ignore that. Still, I couldn't bear to part with the words that I worked so hard to pen, so now you can check them out!

Here you go:

“What just happened?” Amber asked a second time as Gabriel steered her by the arm to their shared vehicle.

The black 1984 Nissan 300ZX gleamed like a jewel among the other scattered vehicles in the senior parking lot. As always, the sight of it brought a swell of pride to Gabriel. He had spent many long hours refurbishing the rusty heap he and Amber had purchased off its original owner for just a few hundred dollars two years before. Rather than respond to Amber’s question, he took the car keys from her limp hand, opened the passenger door and ushered her into the leather bucket seat. Walking around to the driver’s side, he spared a distracted wave for a friend of a friend as he opened the car door and then jumped behind the wheel.

Heat pumped off the car’s black leather seats as well as the pleather steering wheel as Gabriel turned the key in the ignition. Amber sat silently, staring sightlessly out the windshield as the air-conditioning churned to life and blew a blast of warm, humid air into the car’s interior before the coolant kicked in. Under normal circumstances, she would have issued at least one pithy complaint about the uncomfortable temperature. Maybe something about how she had tried to convince him that they should buy the beige leather seats because hot Georgia summers would take to the black interior like a Barbie to a Ken doll…or something to that effect. The noticeable lack of comments had Gabriel suppressing an uncharacteristic frown. After holding his Ray Bans in front of an air vent for a few seconds to avoid getting scalded, he settled the glasses over his eyes and put the car into reverse.

They made their way through the parking lot and turned onto the residential street leading into downtown Newnan. Sending a considering glance sideways, he proposed, “Nirvana?”

Finally, she showed another reaction besides surprise and awe. Flashing him an amused look, she said, “Throwback time. You know me so well.”

Of course he did. Slipping Nevermind into the car’s CD player, they rode along to Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The beautiful, historic homes and shops settled around the quaint town square slid past, all but unnoticed. Gabriel usually enjoyed studying his surroundings as he drove through town, noting what had changed from one day to the next. Granted, the changes weren’t much and they weren’t often, but that only made each change more remarkable when it happened, didn’t it?

Today, his thoughts couldn’t seem to dislodge from the unexpected scene that had occurred in the school’s front entrance.

The strains of the album’s first song faded as they passed the Chinese restaurant where he and Amber ate after work at least every other week. Glancing to his left and spotting the sculpted fountain and small ornamental pond enhancing the restaurant’s exterior, he thought, Jason wouldn’t know that Amber always orders the Hunan Shrimp with brown rice and extra snow peas.

“I can’t imagine why Jason did that,” she said at last. “I mean, we only know each other through track. I’ve spoken to him maybe twice in my entire life. He could have gone to that stupid pool party with any girl in school.”

Gabriel made a noncommittal sound as they stopped at a traffic light.

“It doesn’t make any sense!”

Sighing, he turned and studied Amber’s profile. Her brow wrinkled as she puzzled through the quandary of having been asked to the end-of-the-year pool party by Jason Harrison. Her braid had become half-unraveled as she twisted it around her finger, a habit he knew she indulged in whenever she was nervous or anxious. The result was a frizzy mass of rich brown hair framing an ivory-toned, angular face all but swallowed up by intense, golden-brown eyes and full, unpainted lips. She rarely bothered with makeup, feeling that the ends didn’t justify the means.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” he said finally as he pressed conservatively on the accelerator and glanced down side-streets for local law enforcement. One speeding ticket was enough for him, thank you very much.

Snorting, she crossed her arms over her chest. “Said by the guy who dates the school’s most accomplished temptress. Twice. ”

Rolling his eyes, he pulled up to a traffic light and turned right, heading to their after-school jobs at BJ’s Warehouse.

He hardly felt the need to justify two dates with the school’s cheerleading captain and last year’s Homecoming Queen. A guy would understand, he was certain. Still, Amber was his best friend. Choosing to gloss over her last comment, he swallowed the words he wanted to say and offered, “I think you’ll have a great time at the party with Jason.”


Blinking over the exclamation as he patiently waited for the two other cars at a four-way stop to decide who had arrived first, he managed a, “Huh?”

“You know I don’t even own a swimsuit. You also know I had absolutely no intention of attending this stupid pool party.”

. Struggling not to grin, he pulled into the BJ’s parking lot and pulled into a far slot. Employees were supposed to leave the closer parking spaces for customers. Reaching behind their seats, he pulled out the red smocks complete with name tags that they would don over their clothes before starting work.

He turned to hand Amber her smock, intent on teasing her with a comment about going to the pool party without a swimsuit. Then he looked into her eyes and saw the panic there…and caved instantly.

“Listen,” he said, grasping her left hand to prompt her to look at him. “A swimsuit is an easy fix, and Jason is a pretty decent guy.” And if it turned out he wasn’t, he’d have to deal with Gabriel. “It’ll be all right.”

After hesitating a moment with a lost expression that he had never seen before and hoped never to see again, she nodded her head resolutely and took her smock.

“Okay. Let’s get to work.”

What are your editing tips?


  1. Great tips, Raine, and I love the deleted scene.

    I don't really have any exciting editing tips, usually I walk away for as long as I can, and after a few days I listen to it using text-to-speech. Also, 'find and replace' is one of my favorite tools.

    1. Thanks, Janice! I've never considered the text-to-speech approach. What a great idea!

  2. Great tips, Raine! I just finished a BRUTAL set of edits for my second book and boy did I feel like edit was a 4-letter word, lol! My tip is that I go into edits with an open mind and constantly remind myself that I want my book to be the best that it can be--then I hold my nose and jump right in!

    1. I'm so glad to hear that you keep that mindset, Judy! It's very hard, when we all know that every word we pen is BRILLIANT...but that's definitely the approach to take, isn't it? :)

  3. I loved these tips!! I'm currently reading a ya novel by an indie author, a story that has so much potential but it needs a good long round of editing (e.g.90 % of the characters have blue eyes-really?, grammar mistakes, unnecessarily long and rambling sentences...) As a reader I highly appreciate a well-edited book it tells me the writer was serious about their work and won't settle for less than perfect.

    1. I know what you mean, Ivana. I love supporting my fellow indie authors, and it can be hard when a book isn't edited. Sometimes simply copy editing for spelling, grammar, and POV shifts can make a book with potential into a bestseller. Editing can't be bypassed!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

  4. I'm right there with you. I'm so lucky to have such a great bunch of critique partners (and now life long friends). I don't know how we'd get through this process without the support of others like us (strange people who live in world far removed from the one everyone else lives in.)

    But I wouldn't have it any other way!

    1. Cheers to that, Erica! I think the hardest role an author's friend can play is that of critic and editor. My hat goes off to everyone who is willing to risk getting hit over the head with a keyboard by offering their honest feedback while critiquing a story!