So, now you’ve edited for content. Your plot is tight, your characters believable, your plot holes filled. But guess what? Your editing adventure isn’t quite done; you still have structure, grammar, and all those little bits left to glance over.
“But I’m going to send this to an editor!” you cry, “Why do I need to do all that?”
First of all, it will make you a better writer by forcing you to learn grammar and structural patterns, while also allowing you to understand your own style. Secondly, editing now could save you money when you send your manuscript to and editor (which, unless you’re ready to memorize The Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style and apply them to your work, you’re going to need.
So, put on your party hats, grab a box of tissues, and let’s get started!
One of the first things you might want to do is go look for the passive voice and destroy it. This is nearly all uses of “was,” is,” “am,” etc, when combined with a verb. You probably hear this advice a lot, but that’s because it’s important. The passive voice is, just as it says, passive. It takes the reader out of the immediate action and puts them on the sidelines. Here’s an example:
The woman was crossing the busy road with her nose deep in the latest edition of Vogue, and the muscle car that was heading towards her either thought she would move or didn’t see her at all. Ceri’s actions were immediate, reckless, stupid – and ultimately, self-sacrificing. Soon, he was pushing through the crowded sidewalk and throwing himself into the road, pushing the woman so hard that she went sprawling onto the other side of the pavement, landing on her hands and knees.
Eugh. Talk about gross and awkward and not nearly as exciting as it needs to be. I bolded all the instances of passive voice. There are only four in the paragraph, but they still take away a certain oomph that these opening sentences need to have. Let’s go through and get rid of the passive voice and make it active.
The woman crossed the street, nose-deep in the latest edition of Vogue. The muscle car hurtling towards her either thought she would move quicker or didn’t see her at all, but that didn’t matter. Immediately, recklessly, stupidly, Ceri pushed through the crowded sidewalk and threw himself into the road, shoving the woman so hard she went sprawling onto the other side of the pavement.
That reads a lot better. As you can tell, going from passive voice to active doesn’t just make the content more engaging, but it also tightens up the prose (which is definitely needed for someone who writes in a lot of fluff).
Let’s look at some of the bigger details, now. Did you notice some pacing issues when you did your read-through? It’s time to address those. Pacing links tightly to sentence structure. Long, descriptive lines slow everything down, while dialog and short, brisk sentences speed it up. If you’ve noticed that what should be a high-paced action scene is dragging itself across the page, try cutting some description and seeing if there are ways to insert dialog (without being cheesy) or cut up your sentences. Likewise, if a scene goes by too fast and you want the reader to relish in it, add some description between dialog tags and beef up the words a bit.
However, be careful when adding descriptions, because you’re going to be really tempted to add a lot of adjectives and adverbs. Cut that crap out. Now, I’m not one of those people who is hardcore “no adverbs or adjectives ever! They’re the bane of literature!’ Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that the advice does more help than harm. Cutting out adjectives and adverbs makes your prose tighter and less boring. This is especially true in dialog (which I’ve written about at length here). Honestly, if your characters are well-developed enough and their personalities are defined, your reader should be able to infer how they speak. As far as description, you can still have adjectives, but you might be using too much of them, so consider downsizing.
You know those words that you use all the time? The ones you repeated eight times in the last four paragraphs? Yeah, you need to cut those shit words words, too. “Just,” very,” “however,” “that,” whatever your words are. Go through and cut them. This includes phrases, too which you’ll need to reword. After the twelfth time you’ve said, “He hung his head and sighed,” you really need to think about going back and changing some of those. Cut out redundancies, “fluff” words, anything that doesn’t directly add to the story, tone, or environment.
Then, there are the little things. Grammar, spelling, punctuation – all that jazz. Clean it up as best as you can. Understand how to use semicolons and the difference between independent clauses and dependent clauses. Brush up on comma usage, even if you think you have it down pat. All that kind of stuff. Yes, an editor will do it for you, but if you’re serious about writing, these are things that you should know – and if you don’t know them, you need to be ready to learn.
Once you’ve done all this, the last thing left to do is polish it. Give it another read-through, just to ensure it’s all good. After that, your manuscript is ready to go.