Preparing your manuscript for editing
Preparing your Manuscript for Editing Workshop
This the outline I used for a workshop to help prepare writers to make the most effective use out of an editorl
- Content/Structural Editing
- Foundational issues: Plot, character, tone, structure, world building
- Copy/Line Editing
- Prose, sentences, paragraphs, pacing. Word use and over use.
- Grammar and spelling
Foundational Self Edit
- Using an outline as an editing tool.
- Lots of people will talk about writing with an outline, but they can be great tools for editing. If you aren’t sure about your structure and arcs, putting the bones down in an outline will help you check things, and balance the space between major points.
- How technical with story structure do you need to get?
- There are countless books and blogs dedicated to story structure, KM Weiland’s Helping Writers become Authors is one of the best with lots of examples.
- If you are an outliner, you’ll want to mark the major points of your plot arc and character arcs so you have that going from the start.
- Don’t get focused on structure to the detriment of your story. I’ve seen people warp their story trying to make it fit a structure they’ve read about. The story needs to come first. If you work on telling the story well, most of the structure will take care of itself.
- Are your characters well rounded, heroes with flaws, villains with good sides?
- Another popular tool for writers is character sheets where we fill out their favourite colour and what they like in their coffee. The problem is once we have that information, we want to include it all. What is important is what makes your characters human. Does your hero make mistakes, get angry, hurt people? Why not? Perfect characters are boring. Ones who struggle internally as well as externally will hold the reader’s attention. The same is true of villains. Too many times the villain is all bad, which makes it easy to cheer for their downfall, but doesn’t add much tension to the narrative. Make your villain a hero with an opposing goal to the MC’s and you have a gripping story.
- Does everyone have sufficient motivation for their actions?
- I say everyone, but most important is the villain’s motivation. Why are they opposing the hero? What will they get out of it? I read somewhere there are several classes of villain. The greedy villain, the power-hungry villain, the insane villain, and the scariest, the saintly villain.
- Knowing the motivation doesn’t mean explaining it, but letting it come out in action and dialogue.
Copy Self Edit
- Does each scene have its own internal structure?
- Just as stories have a three act structure, your scenes should begin somewhere, move through some conflict to a resolution.
- Do fights/love scenes/chases etc have their own plot?
- Like scenes, these events need their own structure. Also each fight etc needs to increase the stakes leading up to the finale.
- Does each scene move the story forward?
- If a scene doesn’t move the plot or character forward. Rewrite it or chuck it.
- Pacing with paragraph and sentence length.
- Pacing is important. The length of chapter, paragraph, sentence will either speed up or slow down the story.
- Beats vs Speech tags
- Do your dialogues become talking heads? If a reader were to read only the dialogue scene, would they know about the setting, mood, etc?
- Beats are snippets of description or action or thought which highlight and enhance the words being spoken.
- Control F is one of your best friends. It will help you find out that you’ve used ‘really’ 149 times in your book. Make a list of the most commonly over used words: just, only, that, really, actually, was, were
Using grammar programs
- There are a number of grammar programs out there, from the grammar checker in Word to Grammarly to Prowritingaid.com They have their place, but like spellcheckers, they don’t replace careful reading. What they can do is point out where you have too many pronoun starts, or consecutive sentences which start with the same word. They will help with the overused words and to a greater or lesser extent with sentence structure and length. All of them have free versions and they are worth trying.
- Reading out loud.
- Reading backwards.
Why you still may want to hire an editor.
- After all this work, why hire an editor?
- Editors aren’t attached to the story, so they will see things you miss. They may also spot your habits and point them out so you are aware of them.
- Editors will know story structure and point out where it needs work, and how you might fix the problems
- Editors are enthralled by darlings.
- Working with an editor will make you a better writer.
How to hire and editor and work with them.
- Just as there are publishers who are scams, there are editors who will take your money and give little or nothing back.
- Not every editor is the same. You need to be able to work with this person and trust their advice.
- Get a test edit, preferably get several editors to do test edits on the same section of work. I prefer the first 5k (which is a huge test edit but I have my reasons). This test edit should be free and no obligation. Read through all the comments and pick the person who is going to grow your story. I’ve had more than one client tell me they picked me because I made them cry. Not that I was mean, but I saw so much more in the story than the people who told them everything was brilliant.
- Negotiate a schedule and process. If you have deadlines, tell your editor up front.
- Ask questions, argue. The editor is not always right. This is your book, and in the end, you decide. The editor should be able to adjust their work to fit your vision of the book. You want your book, only refined, not your book the way the editor would write it.
- Pay for the work. This person is taking hours of their time to work through your book. They deserve to be paid on time and without griping. If they are too expensive, you are better to find someone else than try to talk them down.
Testimonial from Rebekah Lee Jenkins
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.
Testimonial from Molly Zucknick
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.
Control F is your friend. A really annoying friend – Learn to Loathe Search
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.
Comment from Cynthia Port
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)
Endorsement by Harry Hobbs
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.
When is your novel good enough to publish?
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.