Thursday, August 30, 2012

Like Sherman's march to the sea

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?


  1. I love the recording idea but I hate the sound of my own voice, and I'm not sure I could get through it. But I do read my manuscript out loud and catch a lot of the same things—overuse of clearly, just, and strode, for example. And lots of dark-blue sedans.

    Recently, I've been through all nine of my manuscripts (for Amazon) and discovered that I like the first names Paul, Rachel, and Gloria (?), and the last names Altman, Barstow, and Walters. Which have all been permanently banned now.

    Good luck with your title! That may be the toughest part of the process. My first thought was Up in Smoke. :)

  2. Excellent post, Gayle! I love your writing style and your self-editing method sounds great! I already advise my clients to read their stories out loud, but your idea of recording the whole thing, then listening to it and taking notes is excellent.

    Another useful idea, if you've only ever seen your manuscript on the screen, is to change the font and print it up. Just reading it in a different font and medium helps.

    Thanks for this. I'll be sending my writer clients here to check out your tips for effective revision and self-editing.

  3. LJ, I also hate the sound of my voice. I hear that flat-voweled sound of my Midwestern roots. When I listen to my dvr, I try to pretend someone else is reading. It helps.

    My first thought for a title was Up in Smoke, too! Unfortunately, that also reminds me of Cheech and Chong (probably not a problem with younger audiences), AND a search on Amazon shows at least 6 different books with that title. I'm currently trying to play with the phrase "ashes to ashes", see if I can make something out of that.

  4. I read my manuscript aloud, but I've never recorded it. What I found helps me is turning on the text to speech on my computer and reading along while the mechanical voice is talking. I've caught duplicated words, dropped words, convoluted sentences, and just general ickies that need fixed.

    Smoke Screen (this could also refer to the secrets)
    Flashes to Ashes
    Burning Hot
    Flash Fire

  5. Peg, how do you turn on the text to speech on your computer? That sounds like a good strategy.

  6. Jodie, it might only be standard on Macs, but I'm betting there is some kind of software for PCs.

  7. I'm with you, Gayle. A lot of people spew everything out on the pages and accept that the first draft will look like crap. I can't do it. That would make me crazy. I rewrite continuously and repeatedly as I go. Once the first draft is in place and somewhat reasonable, go through it a minimum of 13 more times. By the time the book is ready to be published, I'm so sick of looking at it, I never want to read it again.

    I like the idea of recording the story and listening to it. Great idea.

  8. Peg - great ideas for the title! Thanks!


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