Finishing the first draft of a novel is an achievement in itself. But there’s still a long way to go before you can publish that perfect final version. In this edition of Expert Tips, freelance editor, Rachel Small shares her five top tips for editing your own manuscript.
So you’ve finished writing your story — congratulations! Now what? Put it in a drawer. Yes, that’s right. You’ve likely spent months (perhaps even years!) writing your story. You can no longer look at it objectively. Leave it alone for a few weeks, concentrate on other projects, and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
Here are five ways to take your manuscript to the next level after you’ve taken it out of its drawer, digital or physical.
1) Think like a reader.
Adopt a reader’s mindset and pretend you’ve never read your story before. Does your mind wander in places? Are you confused by anything? Having trouble visualising a scene? You might be amazed by the things you notice – sections that can be expanded or deleted, muddled sentences, repetition, incorrect word choice, etc.
2) Read dialogue aloud.
Does it sound stilted? Perhaps you need to form contractions, which sound more natural in dialogue. Does the conversation go on for pages without any physical action or reference to the setting? You may need to add some beats in to separate out the dialogue – read more about how to do that in this article.
3) Make notes.
“Hmm, on page 16, she’s wearing a black dress, but on page 17, Bob spills wine on her white dress. Oh, and this happened in June, but when they talk about the incident a week later, it’s August.” When you’re engaged in big-picture aspects of writing your story, little details like these can fall through the cracks. In a separate document, note details about physical features, the setting, the timeline, etc. Many writers swear by the content-generation tool Scrivener – download a free 30 day trial here.
4) Follow your own rules.
Consistency! Want to capitalize the word Magic in your fantasy story? Make sure it’s capitalized in every instance. This way, your readers will know it was done on purpose. Inconsistency could leave them scratching their heads or thinking they’ve discovered a typo.
5) Tidy up.
Time to make the manuscript sparkle. Run a spellcheck (just don’t rely on it to catch everything!), double-check your spelling variations, delete unnecessary spaces, clean up the formatting, etc.
Carefully self-editing your manuscript will ensure a more cost-effective professional edit. Have fun with this process – it’s not as daunting as it might seem!
Rachel Small is a freelance editor who loves to help writers express themselves, in their own voices, clearly and powerfully. Her varied and extensive experience includes both fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. She is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors.
More from our Expert Tips series: