This post, from Gary Smailes, originally appeared on the BubbleCow website on 7/29/09. In it, he runs down some of the most common missteps authors make in writing fiction, along with remedies for each. In that sense, it’s not a list of tips for editing, so much as a list of tips for writing well in the first place.
Editing your own book can be a stressful and for many writers, a frankly daunting task. At BubbleCow we help writers tackle the problem of editing their own work on a daily basis.
Here’s a collection of the top ten tips for editing your own book as suggested by our editors:
1. Be consistent
Writing a book is a long process that often spans over years. During this period it is easy for writers to lose track of some of the minor plot details. However, it is vital that a writer makes every effort to maintain consistency throughout the writing process. The problem is that readers will notice mistakes. If you tell your readers that a character has blue eyes in the opening chapter, and then six chapters later you say they are green, the reader will remember.
Our tip is to use character reference sheets. These are simply lists of the key aspects for all of your characters. On these sheets you should record all the key facts – age, description, eye colour etc. Also include any details that might be important such as relationships with other characters, home address and other details you develop. One additional tip is to get into the habit of updating your sheets as you build the characters.
2. Use simple grammar
Not all writers are grammar experts. In fact the reality is that many writers struggle with grammar. Our tip is to keep it simple. The correct use of the period (full stop) and comma will get you out of most tough spots. Learning the rules of the correct use of the apostrophe is also crucial, as is the grammar of speech. However, beyond this you are getting onto dangerous ground. If you are unsure of the correct usage of the semi-colon, then don’t use it (even if Microsoft word insists otherwise).
Consistent formatting is an important, but often overlooked, part of editing. By this we are talking about titles, subtitles, indenting, text font etc. In fact you need to pay attention to anything that appears on the page. One way to get around inconsistencies is to use the ‘style’ function of your word processing package. Another way is to simply pay attention each time you start a new section, type in a header or change font. Being aware is half the battle.
4. Narrative arc
Your story needs to have a clear start, middle and end. We are all aware of this but it doesn’t always come across in writer’s work. Our tip is to read your work with the three phase structure in mind. Can you pin point the three sections of your book clearly?
5. Tense usage
When talking to our editors the issue of tense was highlighted as a common problem. The switching of tenses (past to present/present to past) is something that happens to all writers. It is for this reason that you must pay particular attention to this problem. This is one of those things that readers tend to spot. This blog postmight help.