Shelley Widhalm

A Handy Editing Cheat Sheet

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing on September 26, 2021 at 11:00 am

Once you’re ready to self-publish, rushing the editing process may lose readers and hurt author branding.

The book likely needs one more step, or your credibility might be called into question if it’s published too soon. To do that step takes time and several rounds solely and with group input from critique partners/groups and beta readers. At the very least, editing should be done at the developmental, copy editing and proofreading levels.

Developmental editing looks at the structure of your novel from the story arc to the characters, setting, dialog, theme, conflict, tension and pacing. It also looks at consistency in all the story elements of character, setting, plot and dialog.

Copy editing gives a close look at every line of text to check for story, style, transitions and repeats, as well as grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and other mechanics of style.

Proofreading gives a final pass to catch the errors not caught in the first two rounds, since it’s impossible to see every single mistake in a solitary read. This requires a careful, slow review of each paragraph.

Through the editing process, there are several things to think about, which are compiled in a simple, straightforward cheat sheet.

Editing Cheat Sheet

  • Cut unnecessary words and sentences that do not move the story along or confuse what you’re trying to say.
  • Vary the sentence structures, so that not every sentence reads subject-verb-object. Use varied sentence lengths and structures and mix in short and long paragraphs.
  • Look for needless repetitions, awkward transitions and poor word choice. Avoid repeating words, facts and details.
  • Opt for the active voice over the passive voice. For example, say, “The child picked the tulips,” instead of “The tulips were picked by the child.”
  • Keep verb tenses the same, especially within a sentence.
  • Replace adjectives and adverbs with nouns and verbs.
  • Use the active voice whenever you can.
  • Get rid of clichés, unless used for a specific purpose, because they demonstrate a lack of creativity.

Editing in Passes

Editing is best done through a few passes, since not every error can be caught in the first go-around with several things to pay attention to all at once. Editors are trained to find those flaws and oversights and to improve your writing and storytelling, so that your novel will have great structure and flow. That way readers won’t put it down out of frustration at too many errors or a story that doesn’t make sense or matter to them.

Note: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.

Why Work with Other Readers, Writers First

In Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on August 1, 2021 at 7:00 am

Don’t spin in circles with your writing, but try to find other writers and readers to give your work an evaluation before hiring an editor.

By SHELLEY WIDHALM

For writers wanting to self-publish, hiring an editor is an investment, as is getting a great cover design and the correct formatting for an upload.

But writers can do some of the editing work themselves—they can self-edit, work with a critique group or partner, and send off their work to beta readers.

Start with Self-Editing

To do their own self-editing, writers can use a checklist to evaluate the issues of their work (novel, novella or short story collection). Often in question format, checklists go over each element of writing, including plot, character, dialog, setting, tension, conflict, pacing and themes. They can help with things like gaps in plot, inaccurate calendars if it’s June but winter, and blurred secondary characters that sound the same or serve roles that could be combined.

Writers also can revise the book as a first “reader,” looking for skipping of plot points, logistical misalignments and description inconsistencies, as well as areas where the book is boring or moves too quickly, glossing over essential story points.

I like to do this and then do a couple more rounds while still looking at pacing, identifying what doesn’t make sense and where there are gloss-overs in descriptions or dialog. Could things that are summarized be set into scene for instance?

Work with Others

Once the book has gone through at least two rounds of editing, ask for feedback—more than one evaluation is ideal for varied and more comprehensive comments. Evaluations are essential since writers miss things from being too close to their work and not having the ability to encounter it for the first time as new readers.

Feedback can come from beta readers or a critique partner or critique group. Beta readers are readers first, while critique or writing partners are readers who also are writers.

Find a Critique Partner

Critique partners (and groups) generally do an exchange of work to provide feedback, typically more general in nature as opposed to looking for grammar, spelling and punctuation issues.

They can point out where the writing gets muddy—descriptions might be unclear or assume reader knowledge about a specialized topic. They can check character identities to see if details of appearance are consistent throughout (brown eyes stay brown) and that characters are differentiated by their mannerisms, speaking styles and ways of approaching life.

Working with partners is way to figure out what’s not working in the story and to get suggestions for making improvements.

Add Beta Readers

Beta readers may not enjoy writing but do love reading. They should have a basic knowledge of what makes for good writing, as well as an understanding of the elements of the craft. They also should read in the book’s genre.

Beta readers provide feedback based on their skills, knowledge and experience of writing. Like with writing partners, they point out what they think isn’t working in the manuscript and offer ideas for improvement without changing the writer’s voice. They point out areas that don’t make sense and ask questions, providing clarity on how the reader experiences the work.

Make the Hire

Once the book has had a critical audience, then it’s time to hire an editor, either at the developmental or copy editing level.

An editor will give that professional overall or line-by-line view of the work, not skipping over things because personal life gets in the way or they’re learning about the craft or the genre. They are paid to pay attention to every aspect of the work, identifying areas to fix and asking targeted questions for a rewrite, or simply polishing it up to make it ready to publish.

Note: I provide editing, writing and ghostwriting services and can help you perfect your project from an article or blog series to a short story or novel. I also offer consultations on writing and editing through #ShellsInk at shellsinkservices.com.

What’s With All the Editing Terms?

In Copyediting, Developmental Editing, Editing, Editing Advice, Editing as Part of Writing, Editing Tips, Proofreading on July 19, 2021 at 11:00 am

A clean dog is like a clean manuscript–both want you to pick them up for either petting or reading.

By SHELLEY WIDHALM

Do you read a Big 5 published book and see a few grammatical errors that make you flip to the acknowledgements page and ask, “Is there even an editor on the team?”

The last book I read, “Just Between Us,” omitted almost every “and” between independent clauses and randomly used the Oxford comma (the comma before the last item in a series). It’s a suspense, so I got into the story, but the first 50 pages were a bit tedious, especially with the info dump of back story and the only action a bruised wrist and four characters wondering about it.

My current read, “The Lost,” overdoes “says” when action beats will suffice and has a few grammatical and logistical errors despite three editors on board.

Of course, there is a 5% miss rate with any editing job.

But what exactly is editing that makes sure readers get to read without the annoyance of errors? There are many terms for editing, but it can be broken down into three levels from an overall view down to the final polish. There is content and developmental editing, copy and line editing, and proofreading.

Content/Developmental Editing

Content and developmental editing looks at the structure of your novel or how your story is put together from beginning to end. It’s a review of plot and character arcs and the development of the main and secondary characters, as well as setting, dialog, theme, pacing, and conflict and tension. There’s also the consideration of logistics, such as the timeline and space continuum, so that Monday happens after Sunday, and consistency of character, setting and other descriptions.

Here are some questions an editor may consider: How is the story told? How is it organized? How does it flow through the plot and character arcs? Are there any gaps or places lacking a transition? Are characters flat or dimensional? How about the pacing? At what points do readers get excited by the story line and at what points should there be time for reflection?

The result: readers don’t see words but pictures, as if the writing becomes cinematic. The story entices and excites readers. And it makes them pause at your voice and style, use of language and amazing descriptions.

Copy/Line Editing

Copy or line editing goes deeper by looking at the story word for word. It’s not just a matter of looking for errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics and syntax. Depending on what’s needed, it also can involve checking for consistency in style, identifying areas where voice is lost, looking for word echoes (words that repeat in paragraphs or sentences), cutting what’s overstated, fixing plot points that end up getting repeated, and identifying misses—is there more that needs to be added or something to remove?

The editor might ask: How are commas being used as a stylistic choice (Oxford? No comma before the final “too” in a sentence?)? Are facts accurate and consistently used? Are metaphors and other writing devices carried throughout the story? Are there too many of them that end up being confusing? Are historical facts accurate? Are any scientific and other concepts explained in a way that makes sense?

The result: Good writing results in pages free of those little errors that take readers out of the story and cause them to edit in their heads.

Proofreading

Proofing a book is a matter of reviewing the language, such as a check of grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics and syntax (just like with copy editing), plus any typos and missed errors from previous editing rounds.

Reading the proof, especially if it is nonfiction, also involves flagging locations of art and graphics, checking page breaks and aligning chapters and indexes.

So when do you need which type of editor?

A developmental editor helps organize a story so that it meets genre demands and fits with reader expectations. It’s needed if writers get stuck in a story or receive several no’s from literary agents.

Line editing and proofreading give a final polish to writing that literary agents appreciate and readers of self-published authors demand—who wants to be caught up in errors when the idea is to read for story, plot and character and the desire to turn the page?