Editing is one of the necessary evils of writing. I have already lamented about my embarrassment in trusting the automatic spell-checker, so you know I take editing very seriously. In fact, I was editing before I really got into writing (freshman English papers, to be precise). This makes me doubly embarrassed that I was lured into such a false sense of security by the automatic spell-checker. That, however, is an old rant and this is the new rant.
Once a story has reached a certain level of completeness (one hopes anyway), this initial draft must be edited. Obviously spelling and grammar are the first items on the editorial checklist but those are also the easier items to check. Spelling and grammar have rules. Everything else involved in writing is kind of subjective (which eventually leads to the art critic, but that’s another rant). It is also very useful to get someone else to read over your work to find things you, as the author, just don’t see. So what are the items I try to check for after I am satisfied the words are spelled correctly and no commas are spliced?
1) Double-check the spell-checker (a hard lesson learned indeed). Obscure words or profession-specific words (such as “fibromyalgia” and “hydrofluoric”) may not be flagged by some spell-checkers or if they are, well, the offered “corrections” may not be close to the original word and can result in some very odd sentences.
2) Double-check the grammar-checker. Grammar-checkers don’t like long sentences even if they are grammatically correct. Sometimes they also can miss tense agreements and subject-verb agreements if you happen to have misspelled a word or two (or simply forgot to add the “s” to make a word plural). Also check if your noun-pronouns match gender. The grammar-checker doesn’t know “Joan” is supposed to a female and therefore your misspelling “she” as “he” is not going to be caught.
3) Check for consistency. I often change things as I write and sometimes I forget to make those changes earlier in the story. If, for example, you’ve changed your character’s name from “Joanne” to “Joan” you better check that you’ve got it changed everywhere in the story. The “find” function is useful for this, but if you accidentally misspelled “Joan” as “Joann” then the “find” may not catch it. Another person can be helpful in this step.
4) Review dialogue to make sure you know who’s speaking. A short-cut in writing dialogue is to use the name once and then use pronouns (as in “he asked” and “she answered”). But sometimes it’s easy to forget who’s speaking, especially when both speakers are the same gender. If you as the author get mixed up about who’s speaking when, then the reader has no chance of sorting it out. Another person is very useful in this step.
5) Review exposition. This is a hard one and often better done by another person. Of course, what I get out of that person depends on how dedicated they are to helping me write better. Ideally, I’d ask them to read over my work and then ask them some basic questions about the work I assume are obvious. For example, “How old is Joan?” “Where does Joan live?” “What does Joan look like?” “Does Joan have any family?” This can let me know if I’ve left out some crucial information that was so obvious in my head and in my notes (“What’s a mage?” my helpful literature teacher parent asked me once…). Like I said, how useful the other person is depends on their willingness to help you. No one really likes to write book reports, and I’d basically be asking them to write a book report on my work. But it is really helpful.
6) Review basic plot elements. By this I mean make sure you as the author didn’t forget some crucial bit of exposition or description or something like that. Again, enlist help. If I have a twist ending, for example, and my reviewer(s) saw it coming on page 10 of my 300 page novel, maybe I need to re-work a few things. But if I have a twist ending and they have no idea where the hell that ending came from, maybe I need to re-work a few things. Remember Chekhov’s Law – the gun in Act I must be fired in Act III and if there is a gun fired in Act III it should have been mentioned in Act I.
None of these steps are, to me, the same as soliciting criticism. The editorial review is to check for consistency and for quality control. I want my work to be as free from obvious technical flaws as possible before I solicit feedback on more subjective matters, which is a topic for another posting.