You’ve read all the articles and downloaded all the self-editing checklists. You’ve probably even taken a class or two, maybe even purchased a book on the topic. Self-editing is an ever evolving process. It’s the bane of an author’s existence. Being a good self-editor will save you time and money. It will help you write cleaner drafts as time goes on, and it will make you a better critique partner and beta reader.
The next time you’re thinking about editing your work, think about these three tips.
1. Don’t steal your own thunder.
As an editor, I see this happen more often than not. In the big moment, the character reacts to an action that hasn’t happened yet. The character is in shock, and then whatever causes that shock happens. Let the action happen first, then react. In the words of Dwight Swain, you reversed your motivation-reaction unit. The reaction cannot happen until the action happens on the page.
2. Learn to vary your sentence structure.
Words are music. Prose is powerful when it has rhythm and flow. Think about how the words fall on the ear, even if they’re only being read internally and the meter that they seem to hit. The lyrical writer will pull in the reader. The writer who uses the same phrasing over and over bores the reader.
3. If you’re going to break the rules, know why.
Don’t just quote the Chicago Manual of Style and say that what you’re doing is okay somewhere. Everything is okay to someone somewhere. *smiles* Know why you’re breaking the rules. Maybe a character has a heavy dialect and speaks with poor grammar. Or perhaps you’ve made a stylistic decision. Either one is fine, but know the reasons why.
I hope these tips go beyond the ones usually given about overused words, passive voice, and adverbs. Those are excellent tips as well; however, when you take your self-editing a step further, you’ll make your prose shine. Then your editor will help you make it glow.