Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Self-editing tips, part 2

More tips on preparing your manuscript for submission.
I compiled the following tips from self-editing sheets I received from various publishers. Follow them to make your manuscript stand out from the others, and so you’ll have less editing work after your story’s accepted for publication.
As noted in part 1, the basic rule of thumb is: delete any part of your story that does not advance the plot or enhance your characters. Make every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter move the story forward in some way, including dialogue. If something isn’t relevant to the story, or in some way takes your reader’s attention from the story line, cut it. If you don’t want to remove it, rework it to make it relevant.

1. Streamline your sentences. Simplify wherever possible. Look for the redundant phrases below –and others like them—and remove any redundant words.
Stand up = stand
Sit down = sit
Turned back = turned
Turned around = turned
He thought to himself = He thought. (Who else can he think it to?)

2. Don’t overuse names. Repeating your character’s names over and over is a reminder to the reader that s/he’s reading. Overusing names draws a reader out of the character’s POV. And signals to editors you’re a novice. By the time they’ve finished the first page, your reader knows your protagonist’s name.
Take a yellow highlighter (or use the search and replace feature on your computer) and highlight all uses of your characters’ names for one chapter. (If you don’t have time to do that, you can simply glance at the beginning of every paragraph for a page or two. Do they all start with someone’s name? This is another sign of overuse).
Whenever possible substitute “he” “she” “her” “him” and other adjectives for the names. This will help your reader to stay in your character’s PV and can make or break the difference between a reader simply reading a story – and feeling like they’re a part of one.

2. Same word overkill. How many times is it necessary to use the same word in a paragraph?
One publisher’s example: Mary stared up at the wide staircase. She dreaded the thought of climbing those stairs. Nevertheless, she put one foot on the bottom stair and began the journey, one stair at a time until she reached the top of the stairs.
The above is an exaggeration for effect, but most of us do something along those lines without realizing it. Bonus points if you caught the similar sounding ‘stare’ as well as the two ‘tops.’

3. Convert sentences from passive to active. Have your subject perform the action rather than the action occurring as if spontaneously. Occasionally, however, a passive sentence can improve the flow of the story, but use sparingly, if at all. Again, do not begin sentences with ‘It was’ or ‘There were.’

4. Limit speech tags. Use anything other than ‘said’ or ‘asked’ sparingly. Overdescriptive dialogue tags distract the reader from the natural flow of the story. Let your punctuation do the work to show to the reader the action so you don’t have to tell it. For instance, “Look out!” yelled Steve. You need not specify ‘yelled’ because the exclamation point illustrates it.
However, this does not apply to tags used to show action. For instance: “Look out!” Steve pulled Amy away from the falling stone. This gives readers an action – almost a visual – to go along with the dialogue.

As William Carlos Williams said: "It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages."

Actually, I'd argue that it's both, but the point is, pay attention to your craft.

Tips continue on Friday.


Catherine Bybee said...

Great tips, Cate. I'm always looking to make life on my editors easier. LOL.

Debra St. John said...

These are great tips. It's so easy for these little buggers to slip in while I'm writing.

Cate Masters said...

Thanks for stopping by, Catherine and Debra! It is tough to remember all these at once, but I'm hoping someday it'll become habit to avoid them rather than having to edit them out! More tips are on the way...