Writing This Novel part VI

by | April 24, 2013 | Writing This Novel | 8 comments

I know you want to submit your
story as soon as you’ve finished it. So do I. 
Writers are under a lot of pressure to churn out work quickly in this
publishing environment. I get that. But this is a little piece of your soul
you’re sending out into the universe, and polish is the only protection it’s
going to have. So please, slow down. Treat your work like a gourmet meal
instead of fast food. Make sure it’s presented in the best possible way. You’re
the only one who will give it such loving attention.

So. Editing.

Suggested reading before editing:
Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King)

A line-by-line copy edit helps you
find typos, missing words, and grammar mistakes. Below, I share the way I do
it, but as always, do what works for you. However, I strongly suggest that you
allow the MS to sit a few weeks after you finish your final draft before you
plunge into copy edits.  

If you work in Word, you know all
about the wavy red lines for spelling errors and the wavy green for
grammar.  You probably also know by now
that those are often wrong. There are many online sources to help you with
tricky, specific grammar questions. Plus, you have writer friends, right? Turn
to them. But always verify with a trusted authority on the matter.

I write science fiction so many of
my proper nouns are marked as spelling errors in the Word document. Adding them
to the dictionary gets rid of so many red wavy lines and Word will flag it if I
have a spelling variation (AKA a typo), which happens a lot with odd names. I
have yet to figure out how to get Scrivner to accept my world-specific

Despite the weaknesses of Word’s
grammar and spell check, it can show you interesting statistics such as percent
of passive sentences and reading level. I won’t say that I dumb down my
manuscripts, but if the reading level is over eighth grade, I know to look for
simpler vocabulary replacements as I edit. I usually run at about 2-4% passive
sentences. Despite what you’ve heard, passive sentences aren’t evil, bad
things. They have a place in your writing. No editor wants to see 60% passive
sentences in your MS, but you don’t have to completely eradicate them either.
Another interesting statistic is average words per sentence. If it’s over
twenty-five, you may be guilty of too many complex or run-on sentences. If it’s
under eight, your writing may have the delivery of machine gun fire. Mix it up
to create a pleasant reading cadence.  

After spelling and grammar, I consult
my ‘errors I make all the time so you’d think I’d know better by now’ list. I
often type prefect instead of perfect. I switch the words from and form. I’m addicted to the word just.
Spellcheck won’t catch those errors. Do you have crutch words or phrases?
Are you aware of word substitutions you make often? Use the search function in
your word processor to search for your recurring mistakes.

After I’ve finished those
corrections, I print the MS for the first time. You might be able to see errors
on a computer screen but I see many more on paper. I take a green pen and
circle every error. If the problem is an entire sentence, sometimes I write the
correction on the paper but other times I’ll simply circle it and deal with it
later. POV errors, continuity, and plot holes are also circled but with a short
note about the problem. This is detailed work so I don’t do too many pages at
one sitting.

Next I sit down with the MS and
make my corrections in the computer. This is another time when the search
feature comes in handy. You can type in a three or four word string and it will
find them for you so you don’t have to scroll through the whole MS.

At this point, I print the
corrected MS for what I consider to be the hardest editing task. I read my
entire MS aloud.

What I think I wrote makes sense. What I actually wrote is missing words or other errors I didn’t catch on my first editing run. What I actually
wrote is repetitive either in theme or in word choice. What I actually wrote has weird rhythm. Or it’s
a tongue twister. Or what the heck was that supposed to mean? All those errors
are easily glossed over when I read mentally, but they’re glaringly obvious
when I read aloud.

Reading a sex scene aloud can be embarrassing
even though I wrote it. R has, on occasion, poked his head into my office and
said, “Bragging about your cock again, dear?” Instant mortification.   

While reading an entire novel aloud,
I often get lulled into a mental space where I will start reciting what I
intended to write rather than what’s actually on the page. This happens even
when it’s been weeks since I looked at the MS. That’s one reason why I limit my
reading aloud to about twenty to thirty minutes a day. Another reason is that
reading aloud is hard on the throat.  

After I’ve corrected any problems I
caught that time around, I may send the MS to beta readers or I may submit it
without reader input. That’s your choice. 
Sometimes beta readers are more harm than help. Sometimes they try to
impose their vision on your story. Sometimes they simply don’t get it.
Sometimes everything you do is wonderful and lovely and… no. This is not
helpful. You need critique, not ego strokes. Some beta readers have brilliant
insights and totally call you on your weaknesses. Love that class of beta
readers. Cherish them. They are amazing, wonderful, precious humans.

That’s my method for editing both
short stories and novels. Do you have any tricks for catching errors? Beta
readers – yea or nay?

Next time: submission. Finally.         

Kathleen Bradean

Kathleen Bradean’s stories can be found in The Best Women’s Erotica 2007, Haunted Hearths, Garden of the Perverse, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 6, and She’s On Top in print. Clean Sheets and The Erotica Readers and Writer’s Association websites have also featured her stories. Writing as Jay Lygon, her stories can be found in Inside Him, Blue Collar Taste Tests, Toy Box: Floggers, and the novels Chaos Magic, Love Runes, and Personal Demons. Read more about Kathleen Bradean at: KathleenBradean.Blogspot.com www.JayLygonWrites.com


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Kathleen,

    How long does this editing process take you? You are a great deal more diligent than I am, I have to say.

    As for beta readers, I tend to use them when I'm feeling unsure about what I'm doing, for instance when I am tackling a new genre. And of course, when I have the time to wait for a response. You really can't rush a reader if you want to receive quality feedback.

  2. Remittance Girl

    As a last resort or if I'm broke, Beta readers for sure. I tweet on twitter, and usually get about 10 of them.

    However, I prefer, when possible, to hire an editor. Gives me a fresh look at the story and some distance.

  3. Kathleen Bradean

    Lisabet – not as long as you'd think. I have a feeling that you do as much work, but you probably edit as you write while my first drafts are the writer's equivalent of Jackson Pollack's drop cloths.

    RG – hah! All of this is before I go to an editor. I have a deathly fear of looking like an idiot to editors. I'd rather discuss story-level issues with them than typos, or my reluctant to crack open that Chicago Manual by my computer.

  4. Candace Smith

    For unusual Sci-Fi terms, I right-click on the word and 'add to dictionary'. I do this the first time I add the word, and then Word will catch it each time you spell it wrong. It's also helpful if you're writing a series where the words might come up again.

  5. Donna

    I've also found that doing an edit on paper, the old-fashioned way, is absolutely key do doing a good job. For some reason my eye just runs over all kinds of mistakes or awkward phrases on the computer screen. Reading aloud is an excellent method as well, although I don't do it as much as I should. Occasionally, I've done that for the first time when preparing for a reading, and I change the text on the fly! But better to do it beforehand.

  6. Kathleen Bradean

    Candance – Always a good idea.

    Donna – I'm notorious for editing DURING a reading. (And also for going beet red) Maybe people who grew up reading everything off a computer screen can see mistakes, but I really have to have it on paper. (I suspect my printer)

  7. Jean Roberta

    Good advice! I vote for Beta readers you know. When I posted more on the ERWA Storytime list, fellow-members served as a critique group. As you say, some readers are more helpful than others.

  8. Kathleen Bradean

    Jean- Yes! That's why writers need to venture out of their cocoons and be social butterflies, of a sort. Maybe moths? Anyway, we all need a group of writers we can turn to for help.

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