Thursday, December 12, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Revision-Self Editing-Line Edit
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 16, 2013
Line edits are a massive undertaking and possibly the most intimidating step in rewriting our draft. We’ve heard many writers claim it’s not necessary, that’s for the editor to worry about. Those writers are wrong. The line edit finds many errors we wouldn’t ordinarily see. Publishers want a ready-to-read manuscript, and without a line edit we don’t even come close to that.
To begin, we start at the end; at the very last sentence. Why? We know what we’ve written, so if we begin with the first sentence, our brains fall into the rhythm of what we’ve read over and over and ignore possible errors. It knows what comes next, and it knows what should be there. Starting with the last sentence enables us to see the words clearly.
One sentence at a time we examine it, search for grammar, syntax, beginnings, ends, dangling modifiers, comma splices, fused sentences, sentence length and construction variety, vocabulary variety. Address each sentence in isolation.
Once we’ve done this, we begin a list. Even the best editors cannot edit without a list and this list spans several pages. Typically, a page is given per letter of the alphabet. Then we note words beginning on page one. Which words? Repeated words, unusual words, misused words, etc. Then beside the words, we note the pages on which they appear.
On a separate page, we list character names, and next to those names, we list eye color, hair color, age, build, and any distinctive features. Beside all of that, we list the page where the detail is mentioned.
We’re not done yet. Next we list places, dates, addresses, makes of car, unusual words, foreign words, and anything that may be later mistaken.
When finished, we’ll have pages and pages of issues. If we don’t, then we’ve done it wrong and must begin again. Using these lists, we address and correct the errors found. For example, we might find we’ve cited someone as fourteen years old on page 12, and on page 232 he’s suddenly eleven years old. Strange things happen from the moment we begin to write. We change our minds about elements in the story, we pause for a period of time and come back, and although we try to be thorough, we miss minor issues like someone’s age, or how often we’ve used a particular word.
This seems rather involved and possibly unnecessary, but it’s useful. Carlos happens to be an attentive self-editor. When his novel Perfect Circle was edited, he received with his original manuscript no fewer than thirty pages of issues to address. For example, he used one unusual word on seven pages. No matter how attentive we are, there will be things we miss. The line-edit and the list cuts down those missed errors significantly.
We recommend using a spreadsheet to make the list, but if mastering MS Excel or other similar programs is beyond the writer’s patience or abilities, pen and paper work just as well.
Some common problems to look for first:
Contractions vs. possessives and sound-alikes, such as:
It’s/Its They’re Their/There
There’s/Theirs Let’s/ Lets
Hint: Possessive pronouns never use apostrophes, so if you’ve used one, make sure you’re intending to use a contraction and not show possession. Another common mistake is to use an apostrophe for plural forms. Search for these as well.
Look at each sentence to determine whether it contains enough or too much. Don’t expect too much from a single sentence. Shorter sentences are ideal because they don’t ask a lot from the reader; they’re clear and concise (if written properly). If we find words like that, however, because, or, and, as, and while, it’s likely we have a sentence that should be shortened or rewritten to make more than one sentence.
Overworked: If Matt couldn’t find the key, all would be lost because the key unlocked the future, and without the future, what did mankind have to look forward to?
Better: If Matt couldn’t find the key, all would be lost. The key unlocked the future. Without the future, what did mankind have to look forward to?
Three sentences. Three ideas. The sentence isn’t hard to digest when it is broken down into simpler ideas. However, sometimes we don’t let the sentence do enough and spread one idea over too many sentence, risking too much repetition in sentence structure.
Underworked: She ran. She pumped her legs until they burned. She had to get to the castle.
Better: Pumping her legs until they burned, she ran toward the castle.
“Dashing to the door, the phone rang in the background.”
The phone dashed to the door? As we discussed in section XXX, the first part of the sentence is the dependent clause, and it must have the same subject as the independent clause in the second part. This sentence should be rewritten to avoid the dangling modifier.
Better: “As he dashed to the door, the phone rang.”
Missing periods, misplaced commas, open quotes, and all kinds of strange punctuation can squeak past our eyes on the first revision. When we line edit, we examine each sentence and make sure we’ve crossed every T and dotted each I. In other words, we fix any punctuation mistakes we find.
Overusing weak words
Most writers tend to favor certain words, many of them weak. Commonly writers use “maybe,” “so,” “just,” “that,” “move,” “walk,” “well,” and “like.” We don’t intend to, but they creep in anyway. (Anyway is another weak word we can search for.) When line editing, make note of weak words from the beginning, and each time you see those words, note the page number. When we’ve finished, we’ll see how often we use certain words so we can correct them.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
to leave a comment, or Login using
No Comment Found.
Fact or Fiction?
Quote of the Day
The Craft of Writing
Terms of the Trade
Terms of Service
Work with Us
Copyright © 2011 OFW. All Rights Reserved.