Now that my muse has finally stopped picking fault with my plot, it’s time to get my hands dirty and dig down into the nitty-gritty. In some sadistic way, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Editing, it seems to me, is the literary equivalent of geeky, which can’t fail to appeal to a word nerd like me. Plus, there’s something almost therapeutic in polishing your prose, feeling your writing become smoother, more vibrant under your hands.
To assist my efforts, I’ve put together a 5 point checklist of editing tips and issues to look out for.
- Authenticity of Voice. Caught Inside is written entirely in the first person from the perspective of Seventeen-year-old Luke, and so it’s vital I get his voice right. Every thought, every observation needs to be true to his character. Every phrase has to be age appropriate, every sentence a testament to his personality. I want readers to truly feel as though they’re inside his head, experiencing each twist and turn of the plot along with him.
- Characterization and Dialogue. For me, this is the most important element of any novel. If the characters are weak or I don’t understand what drives them, I won’t read on. These are the questions I’ll be asking myself as I edit. Do the characters come across without me having to describe them? Are all their actions in keeping with their personalities? Is the dialogue believable, and does every exchange move the story on in some way?
- Descriptions and Adjectives. The best books are those that create vivid images in your mind, allowing you to picture every character, every scene, as though you were watching it unfold before your eyes. On the other hand, lengthy descriptive passages can slow down the story, and an overload of adjectives only dilute the prose. What I’m aiming for are short descriptions, powerful and rich with sensory detail, that bring both setting and emotion to life.
- Redundancies and Adverbs. Excess wording will only succeed in dragging the pace and lessening the impact of the prose. Adverbs, in particular, can weaken writing, especially when used in conjunction with dialogue tags, and it’s almost always possible to replace them with a stronger verb. In addition to these, during my last edit, I made a list of words and phrases that need to be cut: really, very, actually, in fact, a little, slightly, that, had, still, yet, anyway.
- Style and Flow. I read once that prose should be like glass, so clear that you are barely even aware of it. This struck me as such a perfect analogy that it has stayed with me. There should be no ambiguity, no awkward phrases, no rambling sentences or jarring metaphors. In short, the style should wash over readers like warm water, sucking them in, letting them get lost in the story without distractions.