Some writers like to complete a full first draft before they edit. Some writers prefer to perform continuous quality control checks throughout the drafting process. Regardless of which camp you fall into, here are five editing hacks to help you catch errors and imperfections in spelling, grammar, punctuation, clunky dialogue and sentence structure:
Change the format
We’ve all done it... I read this five times, how did I miss that spelling mistake every - single - time?
It can be easy for the eye to skip over a syntax or grammatical error if you aren’t expecting to see it. We’re very good at unconsciously fixing errors as we read. A good way to reset yourself for editing and proofreading is to change the format and make the text look different.
When you’ve been looking at a piece of text for quite a while and have become very familiar with it, it’s easy to start skipping over the details. Try changing the font. Print it out and proofread / edit with a paper copy and a pen. You can also try moving to a different room or space.
We can’t ever really come at something we wrote ourselves with completely fresh eyes but we can trick ourselves into reading with closer attention to detail by defamiliarising it.
Listen to your work
It’s far harder to fool the ear than the eye and a computer will never unconsciously skip over an error.
Load your text into a good audio narration tool and listen to it. Make a note of any errors or have a copy in front of you to make corrections as you go but don’t follow the text with your eye if you can help it; listen actively.
Listening to your text is also a great way to pick up clunky sentence structure and punctuation problems. Audio narration tools take their inflection and vocal pause cues from your punctuation, so it’s easy to hear when something isn’t quite right.
Read the text aloud
One of the very best ways to make sure your dialogue sounds natural and your sentences are compelling is to read it aloud. Better still, get someone to read it to you.
Some things to think about:
Are you able to read naturally, without inserting breaths in odd places? Are you absorbing everything or tuning out and missing details? Does the text flow off the tongue or are you inserting unsignaled pauses in between punctuation marks? These are all good indicators that your sentences, dialogue or paragraphs might be too long and need shortening or breaking up.
Can you tell which character is speaking without being told or do they all sound the same? Your characters should have their own voices and reading aloud is a good way to check if those voices are distinct.
Cutting is your secret weapon! Get out your scalpel (or in my case, machete…) and start removing everything which is surplus to requirement, not up to standard or doesn’t contribute to the story or character development.
It’s also a good idea to streamline your text by removing any excessive adjective and adverb use. Adjectives and adverbs are like chocolates: one or two are fantastic; too many and you start to feel queasy.
Cutting is a staple of good editing practice. To put this into perspective, Stephen King estimates he loses 10% of his word count between draft one and draft two. However, trimming away surplus text isn’t really a hack...
So here’s the hack: Sometimes it’s hard to let go of sentences, paragraphs or scenes. Before you start cutting, make a copy of your work and edit the copy. It’s far easier to let go of parts of the text when you know you have a back up.
Shortening sentences and paragraphs
As a general rule (and there are always exceptions) make sure your sentences are short enough to be palatable and your paragraphs inviting. Large blocks of text can be hard work and unengaging to read. Well structured, snappy text draws you onward through the text and creates a feeling of pace.
Take a look at your sentences. If a sentence runs over more than two lines or contains more than one or two commas, re-evaluate it. You might find that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your sentence but these are good signposts to trigger a double check.
Now step back and look at your page. If you’re seeing a solid wall of text and barely any white space, it’s a good idea to check the density of your paragraphs and maybe break some of them down.
Ultimately, there’s a lot more involved in a professional edit than checking for spelling mistakes, twelve comma sentences and accidental ‘the the’ slip ups. However, by using these simple hacks you can really polish and refine your text. Your editor will thank you!
Did you know you already have access to some of these editing tools? As a Plot Factory user, you have access to audio narration and Novelist users can create story drafts.
If you’d like to try some of our Novelist story creation tools or would like to upgrade your audio narration access, you can now sign up for a free two week trial here.