By Gayle Carline
I'm slashing and burning my way through my latest manuscript. It probably doesn't look that spectacular, but trust me, I'm killing my darlings.
I thought I'd give you a glimpse into my self-editing style. Each author does things differently (it's not like there's a handbook), so some things might work for me and only me. If any of this gives you ideas of how to improve your own editing process, I'm happy to share.
First of all, I'm not one of those people who barfs it all out on paper, then returns to mop up the mess. I can't leave misspelled words or poor grammar lying there on the page (don't ask me about commas - they're my downfall). Also, when I'm stuck in the story, I typically go back to the beginning, re-read it and voila! I know what my characters should do next. This means more chances to correct a few things.
This means, when I am ready to EDIT, I am looking at story pacing, continuity, overuse of certain words, and sentences that sound better in my head than real life.
My first pass is for words I know I overuse. Apparently, I say apparently a lot. Also, very. Too many people tend to scamper in my novels, and I love-love-love the terms tchotchkes, brouhaha, and flotsam-and-jetsam. You can really only get away with one of those per novel. Perhaps even every other novel.
I also look for adverbs and strengthen the verbs instead, unless they're being used in dialogue and I hear the character speak that way.
After I hunt down the usual suspects, I reach for my digital voice recorder. I could use the recording software on my computer, but I like the little, handheld dvr because it's so portable. Also, it's somehow not as intimidating as talking to my computer. This part of the process takes the longest: I read my entire manuscript into the dvr, chapter by chapter.
Once the book is completely recorded, I listen to each chapter and make notes of what needs to be corrected. If I'm sitting about at home, I write my notes down. If I'm driving, I can record them on the dvr, which is what I love about its portability. (In California, I'm not allowed to drive while holding my cell phone, but there's no law against holding my recorder.)
When I read my work aloud, I find phrases that make me stumble. I also find those odd, dropped pronouns, conjunctions, or prepositions. (Almost typed "proposition" here, and I rarely drop those.) When I listen to my words read back, I hear cliches, POV problems, and errors in the structure. I also hear where I'm putting myself to sleep, which is not going to be good for my reader.
After I've listened to all the chapters and made all the notes, I edit. When the physical typing and cutting and pasting is done, I re-read the book aloud. Sometimes I read it into the dvr again, but not always. It kind of depends on what kind of hot mess I thought I had at the beginning.
I repeat this process until I think my book is ready for beta readers and/or a professional editor.
So far, I've read my manuscript into my recorder and I've listened to 14 chapters. I've found out that all of my male characters are wearing grey slacks, everyone has leather furniture, all the cops have either spiky hair or are bald, and there are duplicate descriptions that activate my gag muscle (Peri's "little blue Honda", Benny as "the needy little man", etc). Peri also seems to be wearing white capris A LOT. She might want to save those for going on a cruise or something.
Authors - what do you do to edit your work? I'd love to hear your processes.
P.S. I'm also hoping to get a title from all this editing. The working title is "Burning Mad" which I hate. The crime has to do with a house fire and subsequent insurance problems. The subplots have to do with families and their secrets. Any ideas?