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Post #15 – How to Ruthlessly Edit Your Manuscript

Start with these editing tips:

• Know that your first draft is just that, a draft.
• Edit your manuscript in several stages. First, look at the big picture elements and work your way down to grammar and punctuation.
• Read you manuscript out loud. Listen for sentences that ramble or are difficult to say or understand.
• Go beyond your word processor’s spelling and grammar check. Consult The Elements of Style by Strunk and White for the proper use of nearly everything related to writing.
• Enlist the help of others. Use professional editors whenever possible, but at the very least, get several trusted people to provide honest critical feedback.

Big picture elements:

• Present a compelling opening chapter. Don’t get bogged down in back story. Give the reader no choice but to turn to the next chapter.
• Use characters that drive the story. Your characters should be alive with personality and well defined. Know what they are thinking, feeling, doing, and what they look like. Demonstrate how the main character has evolved from the beginning to the end of the story.
• Plot the action in your manuscript. On banner paper, label each chapter from the beginning to end along the bottom line. Rate the intensity of the action within each chapter from 1-10. Although there may be peaks and valleys along the way, look for the trend to work toward the climax of the book.
• Use appropriate word count. If your manuscript is out of proportion to others in your genre, it is time to get out the metaphorical scissors and cut.
• Create realistic dialog. Make sure your characters would actually say what they are saying given their personality and the setting of the story.
• End with fireworks. Give your readers an “I’ve got to tell someone about this book” ending.

Things to avoid:

• Passive voice. Use active words whenever possible.
• Awkward sentences. Vary sentence length and check for readability.
• Unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, chapters – They may have been essential to you to understand the situation or background, but hold the story back
• Long paragraphs. Find logical break points for a new paragraph.
• Similar sounding names. Names like Collin and Cooper together in a story make it harder for the reader to follow the action.
• Too many adjectives and most adverbs. Use a variety of stylistic techniques to make your story pop.
• Overuse of any word or phrase. Use the Find feature in Microsoft Word to detect them.

Check for consistency:

• Point of view. Unless changing POV is purposeful, make sure you know who is driving the bus.
• Use of numbers, whether spelled out or not, capitalization of brand names, etc.
• Comma usage.
• Verb tense, especially in dialog.
• Timeline of events. Make sure the baby is born before getting thrown out with the bath water.

Employ these strategies:

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