I hired Alex as an editor but it turned out that was the least of what he did! This morphed from an edit to a super detailed, custom designed writing course. At the end of the course/edit I have a book that my readers are raving about.
The rough draft and first and second passes were behind me. Still, frustrated with the manuscript, I sought advice from an online writing group and received some great tips. The best of which was a suggestion to contact Alex McGilvery at CelticFrog Editing. I was honest with Alex; my greatest fear was having my voice edited out. He quickly settled that worry – his job was to help improve my story, not rewrite it. Because of this, I accepted a no obligation offer to edit my first 5000 words. The results sold me. As a content editor, the comments and advice Alex offered ranged from specific to general and focused on weak plot points, character development, and consistency. The suggestions and appreciations Alex made encouraged a deeper insight into my work and provided enough of a push to help strengthen my voice. I’m so glad I found Alex and CelticFrog Editing.
I’m primarily a content/structural editor. So I’m looking for a consistent plot, characters revealed through action and dialogue, and tone that doesn’t change whenever you get to the harder parts to write.
But while I read for content, there are some common mistakes writers make that will save you time on your edit and give me more time with your story if you fix them yourself. Many of these problems are fixable using the search feature.
Lets start with filter verbs. Filter verbs are words like think/feel/see/hear and their synonyms. What happens is you write.
Dang, its hot. Joe thought.
If were in Joe’s point of view, it isn’t necessary to tell us he thought. Who else is going to be thinking in his POV?
So put thought in the search box, then look at every time you use the word. Do you really need it, or is it clear from the context?
When you’re done reviewing thought, put saw there. When you tell us Sally saw her parents waltz through the kitchen. You give us a nice visual, but it comes to us through Sally. If were in her POV, you don’t need to tell us she saw it. Having her parents waltz means she saw it or you couldn’t write it in her POV. Most time you can cut saw and have a stronger scene.
When you’ve finished with saw, do watched noticed heard listened felt and synonyms you use for them. Keep in mind, your goal is to cut where you can. Sometimes you need the verb for clarity. Until you get used to writing without filter verbs, you will find you can cut at least half of them.
Now that we’ve got rid of filter verbs, you want to work on writing in a more active voice. Search for was and look hard at every was + verb construction you find. Most of the time you can use simple past instead of was. One exception is when you need the passive voice the passive is used when action happens to the character rather than by the character.
Bob was mugged by zombies on the way home. is passive
Zombies mugged Bob as he walked home. is active. Notice the zombies are the actors in both sentences, but you will want to decide what works best for that place in the story you are writing.
This will be places where characters are being acted upon rather than acting. The other is where you are describing an action in process that is interrupted by another action.
John was kissing Sally when her husband walked in. This sentence shows us that they were still in full lip-lock when the hubby walked in.
After you’ve done was check were.
Since we are looking at tenses, let’s look at past perfect. The past perfect is an action in the past that is completed in the past. This is the had + verb construction.
He had kissed every girl in his school.
The past perfect shows up in flashbacks, especially unplanned ones. You know what I mean, where you introduce a character in the midst of some action, then go back to tell us why they are there. Time is best when it flows smoothly. The past perfect may alert you to those mini flashbacks.
The next set of words are what I call weak modifiers. We need an extra word for rhythm. Rhythm is vital, but you don’t want filler words. Every word needs to carry its own weight.
Search for that, if you’re like me you can cut eight out of ten uses without any problem. You want to use that when you are picking one out of a group that cat when it is a specific animal amongst a herd of cats. Even when you can’t cut that look to see if you should have used which or who instead. If you aren’t sure, check a grammar site to learn more about the words’ use and misuse.
Now you are going to search for seem in all its forms. Properly used seems is counter to reality.
It seems hot, but it is actually cold.
Most people use it in describing non-POV character emotions.
He seemed angry. You are always better to show his anger or other emotions without labeling them. Nine out ten times you don’t need seemed.
Do similar searches for just, then, very, virtually, really actually and any other word you tend to over use. All writers have catch phrases they use a lot. If a reader points one out, add it to your list.
The last group of words I am going to talk about are the emotional words. If your character is angry, show the anger through body sensations and body language. If you want your reader to feel what your character is feeling don’t name the emotion. Naming the anger shortcuts the process of reading the words and attaching them to our own experience of anger. So the reader nods their head, the character is angry and on they go. You haven’t evoked any emotion in them.
Sad, happy, angry, afraid and their synonyms go into that search box and you assess each use. Find a way to show the emotion whenever you can.
I am sure by the end of this process you will loathe that search box, but your writing will be immensely stronger. The good news is as you work on it, you will stop using these words so much. I will tell you, you never get past needing to double check.
One last trick, and it doesn’t use the search box except to set it up. Open a duplicate file then open the search box. Type in a period (.) then in the replace box hit the enter key. This maneuver will make every sentence start on a new line. Skim down the page and look for groups of sentences that start with the same word. Two is Ok, three or more consecutive sentences starting with the same word needs to be re-written. While you are looking, pay special attention to pronouns. You want to aim for no more than forty percent pronoun starts. Since pronouns will account for most of your multiple starts, fixing one often fixes the other.
These tips will get you started, but don’t stop here, would and could might be words to examine, About is often over used as is some. You will find others. The search box is a great tool for self-editing because you aren’t reading the words in the context of the story. Now, you will see them clearly and be able to decide if you want to leave it or change it. I expect you already know most of what I’ve said about show not tell, active vs passive etc. What these tricks do is let you see the areas you need to work on so when you hire me or another editor, their comments are about characters and plot, not things you can fix yourself.
I took Alex McGilvery up on his recent promotional offer of $100 to content edit an entire book. I don’t have extra cash for my writing, so this was not an easy decision, but I was feeling mired down by this manuscript (that I love) and needed a boost. He made nearly 400 separate comments on the document, plus several pages of recommendations and observations at the end!!! By the time I have finished responding to his suggestions, both the book and my skills as a writer will have significantly improved.
I met Alex through CIR and don’t know him personally. I believe he may still have this offer. If so, and if you can possibly swing it, take advantage. He is very skilled. I can pretty much guarantee his rates will not stay this low. Here is his website, or you can contact him through CIR.
Thanks Alex! (and thanks Lia London Author for CIR)
I have been privileged to work with Alex McGilvery over the past couple of years as I enter the final editing stages of my new novel A Circle of Roots Alex spend a lot of time reading and critiquing my novel in depth. His comments covered everything from grammar errors, sentence or syntax problems to a great analysis of my plot and character development, and my handling of point of view. Alex asked all the tough questions and made me most accountable particularly in areas of the novel that I had “glossed over.” He was accessible for questions and helped me work out problems that were not obvious to me or where I was looking for a difficulty when some minor editing is all that was needed. Alex graciously agreed to read my book again after I had completed my rewrite. He made further comments on where things were smooth now and gave advice on areas still requiring work.
I feel fortunate to have Alex as my editor and know my novel is stronger as a result. I would recommend Alex to anyone who is looking for an editor to give critical and honest feedback.
Email [email protected]
I see variations of this question on writing boards all over the internet. It is tempting for me to read a few lines of the book and answer the question for them. “No, it isn’t ready. Go back and fix these issues.” After all that’s really what I’m doing when I’m editing for people. I’m showing them the parts of the novel that make it not ready for publication.
But that is just my opinion. I’m one person with one set of ideas about what constitutes a well written novel. One of the things I’ve learned in my years of reviewing is that there aren’t many rules that can’t be effectively broken. I probably would have sent 50 Shades of Grey back for more editing.
I’m not going to tell you if your novel is ready for publication. I will tell you what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of that novel. I will push you to polish and make it as ready as possible.
So, how do you know?
I use beta-readers. Those are people who don’t know me and have had no part in the creation of the book whom I ask to read the book and tell me what they don’t like about it. It may seem harsh to ask only what people don’t like, but I find it is a very effective way of getting the most out of my beta-readers. If they don’t like something, the chances are very good that other readers won’t like it either.
I fix what the beta-readers don’t like. If there was a lot of things they had problems with, I might find a second set of betas and turn them lose. When I start hearing that the book works well -they finished it without a struggle, they didn’t have major issues with the plot and/or characterization in the book, then I know that it is close.
I have my content editor go through the book before I send it to beta. The line editor I have look at it after. I’m not longer going to make huge changes, but just make certain that I’m consistent, that I don’t use the same word too many times (unless I have a good reason to do that).
I make the changes suggested, then I sit down one more time and read the book from cover to cover. I don’t use a pen to mark it up. I just read. I want to see if the story pulls me in. Does it evoke emotion at the right places? Do I like this book? If I hadn’t written it, would I buy it?
Now I’m ready to answer that question. Is my book ready to be published? Not only can I answer it, I can answer with confidence. That is very important when you are marketing. You need to know that you’ve put out a quality product. If you’re apologetic or uncertain about your own book, you won’t sell very much.
I’m still learning. I can see the difference in my two books and I’m working to create as big a difference in my third book. That doesn’t mean the first two weren’t ready, though I’d do things differently now. It means that I’m getting tougher on myself and raising my expectations.
That’s why you need to ask yourself that question each time you finish a book.