If editing is your least favorite part of writing, this post is for you!
I will show you 7+ tips for editing and proofreading your rough draft and take your book to the next level.
I’ve just finished the final, final, final edits for Snow White and the Eighth Dwarf. Proofreading it was a long, laborious process, as I wrote 56K of the story last July in a rough NaNo like session. The first draft was not pretty.
Let’s face the ugly truth. You’ve spent months, maybe years, writing a book and you have a big, sloppy mess of a first draft. How do you clean it, revise it, and make it look good?
Look for inconsistencies.
Did your main character change names, eye color, or gender? Did you mention magic in the first chapter, but no one casts any spells? Does your forest setting change to a desert for no reason? Check your timeline to verify your protag and antag are on the same day. Because of the time involved in writing a book, many details can get lost. Look for inconsistencies and fix them.
Fill in the holes.
I write very fast because I don’t want the bright, shiny light of inspiration to dim. Get the words down, get them down fast is my motto. Fill in the holes later. My first draft is full of XXX’s, my all-purpose placeholder for research I need to do, nameless characters (example from my current WIP: “Name1, Name2, Name3, Name4 and Name5, thank you for coming here today.”), or descriptions that need filling in (example: more here of her physical trauma xxxx.) My first draft is a tic-tac-toe game. Revising is the time to do the research, decide on the names, and fill in the holes.
Check the draft against the outline.
Finished drafts rarely match their outlines, but you can check whether the bones of the story are complete:
- Does each of the main characters have a goal, motivation, and conflict?
- Do they have a character arc that changes them from what they were at the story’s start?
- Are the stakes raised as the story progresses?
- Did you hit all the plot points? Is there a compelling hook, an inciting incident, a midpoint, a big, black moment where the protagonist might not make it? Is there a climax and resolution?
- Do all of the scenes and characters drive the story forward?
Have you accomplished what you set out to write?
Deepen your characters
Is the reader on an emotional journey with your characters? Does your character have depth, or is he a cardboard cutout? Here’s how to add depth:
- Give your character an overarching emotion. Whether he’s angry, vengeful, confused or desperate, he should have a primary emotion that drives him through the obstacles he encounters. This emotion should not only appear as internal thoughts, but physical and emotional reactions. Is he holding his breath to stop from saying something damaging to the woman he loves? Is his fist clenched, breath hitched, heart drumming? Let the reader see beyond the surface into what’s deep inside the character.
- Give your character a flaw. Make him stubborn, vulnerable, selfish, dramatic. Examine the flaw and look at it from another angle. Is he mistrustful or was he hurt by trusting someone too much? Is he power hungry or determined to never again be in a position of not being in control? A flaw drives the decisions your character makes. It is something he should confront and conquer by the end of the story.
- Raise the stakes. Find out what your character will never, ever do, and make him do it. That power hungry CEO? Force him to choose between the company he’s spent his life building and the woman he loves. Can you make things harder for your character? Do it. Have him struggle, give him what he wants, then rip it away. Don’t be kind.
- Use the 5 senses. No, go beyond that and use 57 senses. Don’t stop at sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Add direction and tone to the sounds. Add color and depth to the sight. By incorporating more senses to your character’s experiences, you add depth.
Use online edit tools
Online edit tools, whether free or paid, are a God-send for writers. They can make the editing process easier. I’m partial to ProWritingAid. It examines imported script for style, grammar, readability, cliches, diction, dialogue, and pacing. I’ve tried both free and paid versions and found only a few differences between them. Try the free version first before deciding to shell out your dollars.
Other editing programs I’ve heard good reviews about:
As always, take their suggestions with a grain of salt. When I tested “Women and children crumpled under the attack.”, ProWritingAid suggested “crumbled” instead of “crumpled.” Ah, no.
Use these tricks while self-editing and proofreading
Almost every piece of editing advice includes the warning of not relying solely on your own efforts to edit your story. Of course, we ignore it several times before we admit ANOTHER SET OF EYES IS MANDATORY. (sorry for shouting.) Really, pay or bribe someone to catch the mistakes you don’t. In the meantime, use these tricks to catch a lot of your own.
- Read it in red. Change your background color to red and your font to black. Somehow, the glaring red background will draw your eye to errors.
- Use a different font than what you wrote in. If you’re a serif font lover, pick a san serif font. Again, the difference will emphasize any errors.
- Change the font size. Up it to 16 or 18. Bigger words mean your brain reads at a slower pace and won’t skip over boo-boos.
- Read it back-to-front. If you start at the back and work line-by-line toward the front, you’re not following the story and don’t get caught up in skipping over the bad parts.
- Read it aloud or use a text2speech program (this comes with MSWord). Nothing will catch a glitch faster than hearing it out loud.
- Get someone else to read it. They will catch that you meant to use “waved” instead of “waived”, “heal” instead of “heals”. *****ANOTHER SET OF EYES IN INVALUABLE.*****
Check the basics
The basics include spelling, grammar, punctuation (most of which can be found by using one of the above editing tools). But don’t forget:
- Similar words. They’re, their, there. Hear, here. It’s, its. Know the difference.
- Adverbs are death to writing. Adverbs weaken your sentences. Why say “very soft” when you can say “squishy” or “silken”?
- Dialogue tags. The less they’re used, the better. Use “he said”, “she said” or show their emotion with action.
- “I love that man,” Jessica said adoringly. Vs. “I love that man.” Jessica covered her heart with both hands.
- “Stop hitting me,” he shouted. Vs. “Stop hitting me.” Scott clenched a fist. A nerve twitched at the corner of his left eye.
- Poor examples, but this is spur-of-the-moment. Forgive me.
- Head hopping. Yes, I know Nora Roberts does it, but she’s freaking Nora Roberts. She doesn’t use a blurb on the back of her books. Head hopping makes your reader reset every time the point-of-view changes. You want your reader involved, not wondering who is talking.
- Exposition. Sometimes it is necessary to set the stage or advance the plot, but you’ll lose your reader’s attention if you describe four pages of the shoe store, the brands carried, the shelves and direction of the sunlight beaming through the windows before you mention the dead body on the imported, oriental carpet.
- “Show, Don’t Tell.” This is the most important piece of advice given to new writers. Don’t tell me about the dead body on the carpet. Show me how the red blood matches the pattern, how the smell mixes with the scent of shoe leather. Show me the reflection of the sunlight on the victim’s glasses, knocked askew during the struggle. As they say in the advertising business, “Sell me the sizzle, not the sausage.”
- Keep yourself out of the story. It’s soooo tempting to add every piece of research, but the reader doesn’t care how many pounds of air pressure can escape per minute from your sky pirate’s ship’s ruptured air bag. They care that he’s being pursued by Her Majesty’s Royal Air Navy.
- Avoid backstory in the beginning. Taking the shoe store example from above, don’t tell me how Jessica Sands saved up since she was six, how the other girls used to mock her fashion sense, how her grandmother’s death set her dreams back. Start with the action as soon as possible. A long time ago, and I wish I could credit her, another writer said to think of your character’s backstory as a mirror, with her entire history written on it. Smash the mirror, then insert small pieces throughout the story.
Use these edit and proofreading tools to elevate your writing!
These tips are only a few I’ve learned in the eighteen years I’ve been writing (OMG, 18!) I hope they help you edit and proofread your book and take it from rough draft to ready to hit the Publish button.
Do you have a tip you use when revising your book? Please leave it in the comments below.