Here are my own recent conclusions and advice regarding the importance of high quality self editing in the world of contemporary publishing. These are highly personal and come after a lifetime of writing many novels and working with gifted professional editors – see my last post.
I’m at the moment very absorbed in hyper-editing my Big New Novel for publication later this year. (More about this in a later post.) Also have just re-edited and republished my novel Paulie’s Web for Kindle and for hard copy publication later this month (Hooray!).
So it occurs to me that if we – as I am at this moment – are in the present day climate editing ourselves to the point of publishing we certainly need High Quality Self Editing Skills to produce our work to a professional standard.
Being Your Own Editor
As I said in my last post I’m a great believer in writing the novel that is in your heart, the novel you need to write, not a novel to someone else’s rubric or model. But editing is different from writing. This hyper-editing process has made me realise that I’m beginning to take the more editorial position where I have become absorbed an editor’s perspective on my book. This does not mean I’ve discovered that I should change the substance or content of the novel; it just means that I’ve become much more aware of the reader and how she or he will see and read the novel; how they will read it and want to read on; how they will enjoy it and look for another novel by you.
My suggestions below might seem a little elaborate. But if you take it step by step you should end up with a readable, well edited and publishable novel to be proud of. I have to tell you this – elaborate thought it may seem - is much easier than actually writing a novel. I’ve been there and I know this is true.
My basic assumption before we start this process is that you already have on your table a well written novel with a good storyline in whatever genre, and interesting content. All it needs is good quality self-editing.
Setting about High Quality Self Editing
Layout – How it looks is the first thing the reader first sees when they handle a book.
Don’t forget that your computer may be automatically formatted business reports, brochures, and letters. You need adapt these to make them suitable for fiction. There’s nothing worse than trying to read a novel or short story laid out like a business report.
Some guidelines for tackling layout.
- Place Chapter Titles a third of the way down the page. I like to use titles but numbers are OK.
- Always insert a structural page break between chapters
- Text size 11 or 12 points – not larger – that looks amateurish.
- Line space I.5
- Indent every paragraph except the one at the head of the chapter when you place first line on the margin.
- If you change place, time or action within a chapter, leave a doubles space and place the first line of the new paragraph on the margin and then continue indentation.
Laid out in this fashion your original drafted, transcribed manuscript begins to look professional. Now you’re looking at it more like a reader. This is a help for the next stage which is -
Passionate Substantive Editing – essential for High Quality Self Editing.
1.Read the text out loud chapter by chapter, right through. Just mark anything that sounds lumpy or doesn’t flow. Scribble in self suggestions. Have - and enjoy – a reader’s dialogue with the text. Insert amendments that enhance your meaning or improve the flow of your text.
2. Sort out the paragraphs.
Paragraphs can be a puzzle. I meet good writers in workshops who haven’t yet got paragraphs nailed. It’s a bit of an ambiguous area. To a degree paragraphing can be a matter of taste and style. Paragraphs in modern literature are distinctly shorter that those written in novels – say – before 1946.
If we aim for High Quality Self Editing we have to make our own choices regarding paragraphing. Me? I’m of the opinion that white space on the page makes text more accessible and helps it flow forward.
So here are my useful rules of thumb.
· New speaker, new paragraph
· New idea, new paragraph
· (As stated in Layout, above). If you change place, time or action within a chapter, leave a double space and place the first line of the new paragraph on the margin and then continue indentation.
3 That sorted you can now move onto other things
· Carry out a computer spell and grammar check to iron our residual mis-spellings, expressions and extra spaces.
· Read the whole text again (I know! I know! But this is still High Quality Self Editing Skills after all.
· Now get your notebook and make list of the names you use in your story. Check back through your novel and make sure they are consistent.
· Turn a page in your notebook. Now go through your novel and check the physical characteristics of your characters (hair eyes etc). Are they consistent? (I had a novel where a central character mysteriously lost a limp half way thought the novel.) Make amendments to remind the reader of these characteristics as the novel unfolds.
· Spell/grammar-check any changed sections. Or the whole novel again if necessary.
Hooray! Now you have your complete well edited novel, well laid out and easy to access.
SO NOW give your novel to a literate, well-read friend and supply a pen and a pack of Post-It notes. Of course you can could use (expensive?) proofreading services but the highly literate friend can be just as good for those aspiring to High Quality Self-Editing, Attend to her or his queries and make amendments to the manuscript where you think it appropriate. Make useful amendments but don’t alter the nature of the novel.
Then one final and rigorous spelling/grammar check on your computer and you have what I call a novel in Good Heart.
Finally –More grammar/spellchecking. What, you say? Well, this is about high quality self-editing skills.
So it is near perfect. This is your final chance to look at your novel as a near-perfect whole and you can ask yourself some useful questions,
· Look at the beginning and end of each chapter. Are there valid connections here in terms of words, phrases or ideas? If not, think about inserting some. It could be a single word or phrase.
· Look at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. Is there forward movement? Is there flow? Is there some energy on the forward movement?
· Consider the first and last chapters. Do they convey a kind of symmetry in the novel, however ambiguous? I don’t mean here cute resolutions. Endings are not about explanation or expiation. However there should be a valid connection that momentarily gives the reader (however subliminally) a sense of the novel as a whole.
· And if you have made your characters live and breathe the end of a novel is just the end on a beginning,
Now …er… one last mechanical spelling and grammar check. Ouch! Don’t hit me!
But now your novel has really benefitted from your High Quality Self Editing Skills. You have become an editor as well as a writer. Your book will enjoy a credible professional presence out there in the world, whether you publish it yourself or allow someone else the privilege of publishing it,