Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What I've Learned: Editing

I used to edit on paper with anything red I could
find. Nowadays I can do it on the computer
though I still have a lot of red pencils around.
Image from here.
Yesterday I finished the (by my count) 5th draft of this novel I wrote last year. Actually it's about draft 3.5 but because I did some things halfway, I'm counting it as 5. Along the way I've learned quite a bit. Here's a partial list:

'A LITTLE' GOES A LONG WAY
It seemed like every time I turned around I was having people do things 'a little'. Nodding a little, smiling a little, shaking a little, stepping back a little. I know it happened because I was avoiding the -ly adverbs and in particular 'slightly' but it got waaaaaay out of hand. There were as multiple instances in every single chapter of the book. More than a dozen in one case. Those puppies were gone every time I caught 'em. I found them because 'little' is a weak word. So is 'nice' and 'very' and so many others. Not all of them but the vast majority took a flying hike.

SUPERPASSIVE BLACK HOLE
I've made no secret that I had a problem with passivity in the verbiage. In a given chapter of roughly 5000 words there might have been 50 - 60 passive phrases that had to be retooled. Most of them were of the garden variety [to be verb] combined with a gerund. "Was going" happened to be the biggest offender. "Was wearing" came a close second and in almost every case I could change the offending verb phrase to 'wore' or 'went' or - well, you get the picture. I'll tell you that fixing passive verbs over the course of more than 100,000 words teaches you a lesson that should stay ingrained. I'm really hoping this will improve the first drafts of everything going forward. Only time will tell.

Now, that said, I left the passive verbs in the dialogue. That's how people talk. We aren't machines or even necessarily well-versed in the rules of proper English. We have color in how we talk and we say what we think and what's on our minds and we say it badly. So, passive stayed in the dialogue.

PATIENCE IS REALLY WHAT IT TAKES
Since I've edited this manuscript I don't know how many times (3.5 or 5 depending on how you count) I've tweaked a lot of things that I missed in every draft prior. It surprised me how much I didn't catch on the initial tries, how many plot things were just laying there waiting for me to notice them, how many sentences needed improvement in POV or just plain clarity. One shouldn't rush editing these things, I guess.

I'M PRETTY GOOD AT AVOIDING THE -LY ADVERBS.
Again if the average chapter was 5000 words, there were usually only a dozen or so of the offending -ly adverbs. I think I've pretty much conquered that aspect of my writing. Level up!

INDEFINITE PRONOUNS CAUSE A HELL OF A LOT OF TROUBLE.
Start a sentence with 'it' and you're done for. That one word makes your sentence so weak it can't even fold a piece of paper. Awful. Stop doing that. Easy to spot, too, and littered all across the landscape of this manuscript. Something that has to be fixed as I didn't pick it up until a little over halfway through.

***

That's what I learned this go-round. Well, not all of it, but that's the largest part of my education at the moment and I thought I'd share. Maybe someone will get some use out of it. Let me know if you do, will you?