Sorry this is late in appearing, everyone…that’s what this annoying little thing called…”LIFE”… will do to a person. O.o
So, I’ve been working on beta reading S.K.’s awesome new book, The Lords of Askalon (can’t WAIT for all of you to be able to read it!). Beta reading for me is mostly line-editing. However, since I generally only have time to do a once-over, I
usually try to work in syllabic editing and at least some consistency editing (did you really mean “north” here???:). But most of what I’m doing is looking at the mechanics of the writing, and making sure that the prose is as tight and vibrant as possible. I promised to share with you my tips and techniques, so that line-editing can be a little less of a headache for you. Here you go.
First thing’s first: whenever you’re going to do a significant edit on your book, SAVE A COPY OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT. You don’t want to experience the horror of slashing all of Chapter 9 and saving over your only file, only to realize…”Oh no! I really wanted to recycle that one passage into another chapter.” Save it as “MyAwesomestNovel_EDIT” or something. Then when you’ve got it edited to perfection, save it (again) as “MyAwesomestNovel_FINAL” or whatever. I’m obsessive about that. Any time I make significant changes to my story, I save a revision document.
Okay, this isn’t really a step one, but it’s kind of a….macro-y sort of line-edit, so I’ll talk about it first.
One of the first things I’ll try to do when I start editing is It’s basically a sort of page-scan. This means that I’m not actually reading so much as doing a sort of visual pattern search.
For instance, I’ll scan over all the dialogue on the page. If I see too many modifiers, too many dialogue tags, I’ll start slashing them. This is one of my personal banes — using too many adverbs (he said thinly/ flatly/ harshly/ sharply/ gently/ whatever-ly), or too many descriptive verbs (he snapped/ laughed/ demanded/ lamented).
My general rule — if I were to have a rule — would be to see no more than one or two of either of these things on a page, or per chunk of dialogue. I prefer when action frames some of the lines of dialogue (He shrugged. “Who cares?”), rather than dialogue tags. Then you can use context to identify the next speaker…except where you need to introduce a newcomer to the reader. So:
Bob and Milo sat quietly for a while, constrained in uncomfortably close quarters. Milo sighed and fidgeted.
“Where are we going?”
“I have no idea. No. Idea.”
George glanced at them in the rearview of his Mini. “Chill out, guys, we’re just going to grab some donuts!”
Now, that does the trick, right? Right before the dialogue starts, we’re talking about Milo, so we can
safely assume that he’s the first one to speak. Then, Bob has to answer, because he’s the only other character we know. But I can use an action frame to introduce George — and also to start solving the mystery of why Bob and Milo are feeling so uncomfortably constrained squashed.
So if I’m scanning the page and see several lines of dialogue that elaborate too much, I’ll start cutting. I’m
exceptionally brutal about this, because, as I said, it was the bane of my writerly existence for years.
ALSO. Don’t be afraid of the word “said.” It’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t always need to modified, either. I’d say…35% the time you don’t need anything modifying the dialogue. 25% of the time, just say said! 25% of the time you can use an action frame. 15% of the time you can use a colorful “speaking” verb, like “demand, snap, whisper” etc. Anyway, different people have different preferences…just watch out for going overboard in any direction. ALL of these are problematic:
“I went to the store today,” George said.
“That’s nice,” Bob said.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.
George frowned and slammed his hand on the door. “I went to the store today!”
“That’s nice.” Bob’s face lit with a malicious grin.
Milo squirmed, nervous. “I went to the store yesterday.”
“I went to the store today,” George whined.
“That’s nice,” Bob sneered.
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo announced.
But this is sort of better (if we can salvage this idiotic dialogue…):
George speared a glare at Bob. “I went to the store today.”
“I went to the store yesterday,” Milo said.
You get the idea.
Also in the scanning edits, I watch for
snippets or phrases that might tend to get repeated overly-repeated snippets or phrases. This includes phrases like: shrugged, frowned, shook (his) head, sighed, grimaced, groaned, etc.
Generally I don’t want to see more than one character doing any of these things more than once in any particular scene…or at least
make sure that you give some solid distance between instances. If everyone’s constantly shaking their heads and nodding, I’m going to assume they are Bobbleheads. And yes. This is one that I have to be extra-careful about, because I do it a lot. It’s especially hard if you write in fits and starts. If you don’t make sure to reread your previous few pages before starting again, you risk repeating phrases that you didn’t remember using.
Also watch for consecutive sentences starting the same way. If you’re scanning a paragraph and see: “He… . He… . He…”, then you have a problem. Even worse would be: “He was… . He was… . He was…” AGH! Death. Try to avoid starting multiple sentences with the same word/grammatical structure. It gets quite annoying.
So basically, this step is just my eye scanning over the pages, looking for things that are visually….disturbing. You’d be surprised what you can catch this way, which you might not when you’re actually reading.