I've been doing a lot of editing lately, and not so much writing. As some of you know, I hate editing with a passion. It's a cruel, cruel thing to do to excise large parts of text, to change out other parts, add detail -- you get the idea. Writing is hard work, but I think editing is harder; it's the less fun part of putting together something that is readable and enjoyable.
Last fall, in my writing workshop, the question of how to self-edit came up. I have some guidelines I follow when I edit, and I've listed them below. By no means is this how you're supposed to edit, it's simply the way I edit. Everyone has a different way of doing and looking at things. In a nutshell:
- Make sure every sentence has a verb, noun and subject and that they make sense.
- Make sure every sentence ends with some kind of punctuation mark. There should be *no* double or even triple punctuation.
- Check spelling
- Remove 'that' from most sentences.
- Rewrite passive sentences
- Check to make sure there is a good balance of external and internal dialogue. In other words, I need to make sure I know where the characters are positioned in each scene and what they are doing as well as what they are thinking and feeling.
- Along the same lines, there should also be a balance between exposition and dialogue. Too much of either will bog the story down.
- Especially in a short story, make sure every element is there for a reason. As one of my writing teachers once said, "If there's a gun over the mantle in the first act, it'd better be fired by the third."
- Make sure the action starts as close to the climax as possible. If I have to start the story too far out, then I'm either in the wrong place or telling the wrong story.
- Check to verify all elements of the story -- character, plot, conflict, climax, resolution -- are present and that they flow nicely from one detail to another.
- Be absolutely brutal with the delete button. Sometimes things, no matter how well-written or loved, just don't work. Delete, delete, delete. Someone once told me to cut out a third of every story once completed, and while that might be a little harsh, I think it's good to go into it with the *idea* the story needs to be made more succinct.
- Wait. Seriously. Wait three or four days and then take another look. The waiting period helps kill off any gremlins hiding in the prose, things I might have missed the first time around. When I go back for the second edits, I follow this same list of steps. I might wait again for another day or two after that -- it really just depends on my mood.
There you have it. If anyone else has other ideas, feel free to share. Again, this is just what *I* do. It always helps to have a second pair of eyes to go over the story, the more critical the better. However, remember the final judgement of what stays and what goes belongs to the author. Still, it never hurts to whack a few paragraphs just for the heck of it. And speaking of whacking, I've got some 7,000 words to cut out of a story and unfortunately, all of the 'thats' are already gone. Wish me luck!