Thursday, 19 August 2010

Dinner Party Editing: Pudding

And now we come to the bit that most people think of as re-writing, editing. This is the point when we examine every line and justify its place in the scene, and then having justified the line, we consider every word.

Reading out loud is a great help at this stage, checking that it reads smoothly. The big proviso is that you must read accurately - I notice that quite a few students read what they'd like to see rather than what is actually on the page. Words get cut, contractions are made which simply aren't there. (Contractions are things like I will becoming I'll - we do it in speech, but some people tend not to when writing. It depends on the writing style, but no contractions can make the writing appear very stilted.)

Two books I'd recommend at this point: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. I've got a long line-editing checklist that I hand out to students, and I might post some chunks of it at some stage when I'm feeling waspish but a simple version is...

* cliches (heavy heart, golden curls)
* autonomous body parts (her lips curved into a smile)
* active description
* strong verbs
* strong nouns rather than adjective plus weak noun ( a breeze rather than a light wind)
* check dialogue attributions
* be direct rather than passive
* use specific words
* name names and be consistent
* watch out for similar character names (I write as someone who once had Pat and Patrick in the same novel
* delete qualifiers - a little, very, just, kind of, sort of, quite, rather
* watch for repetition
* check grammar, spelling and punctuation
* vary paragraph and sentence length
* vary starting words (it's all too easy having a whole para filled with sentences beginning the same word)
* avoid unnecessary punctuation eg exclamation marks and italics, capital letters, underlining.

I could go on, but read the books and you'll come up with your own list.

If you're really lucky you have a nit-picky friend who'll happily edit your work. A friend like this will sometimes make you say 'thank you' through gritted teeth, but remember that you don't have to change anything and it stops you having to do as much work. Edit, edit, and edit some more until it feels like your eyes are going to fall out and go splat on the manuscript. But it will be worth it and soon pudding will be over and it's time for the last stage, coffee and petits fours.


Anonymous said...

I've just had some feedback on a story telling me it's overlong for the content, thirty words where three will do, so this list is apposite for me! I've copied them down, is that OK?

Sarah Duncan said...

Help yourself!

Sarah Duncan said...

Help yourself!