Saturday, January 12, 2013

Upon finding my old editing notes

We're talking about prepping a manuscript this week. Nerdy of us! Spell check is the only procedure I follow before turning in a manuscript. My prep technique is just an overall approach of editing the hell out of my manuscripts, taking many, many passes. Usually I edit for story first, making sure the characters are right, getting rid of plot holes, getting the tension right. But then I go to the level of the sentences, which is sort of what we’re talking about here.  

Last month I found an old handwritten guide I’d made for myself back in 2008, around the time I was writing Mind Games, trying to be a better self-editor and correct recurring problems.

My 2008 notes. Fun and weird to see again!

This old list highlights what I was concentrating on. Some of the stuff I feel has become second nature. Other stuff I could still use work on, so I put the list up on my bulletin board by my desk. But since this is the subject of the week, I’m typing it out. There are some items I’m actually unclear on, like, what did I mean? Those are noted.

Watch out for echoes
For example, comment and commentary in the same paragraph. Get rid of those.

Vary sentence structure and tighten along the way
I was successful once, but now I blah blah
Once successful, now I blah blah

To be forms (is, are, am)
Get rid of them where they’re not just right.

Tighten and extend scene and person description where help to scene needed.
Okay, I sort of don’t get what I meant by this. I'm editing something right now, so I'm going to really be thinking about this item. 

ING + to be ... get rid of those!
I was rummaging through > I rummaged through

Too much 'I'
Combine sentences to get rid of so many.

We can make him better, faster, stronger!

Lists: escalate interest in lists
I’m intrigued by this one. Why did I identify this as a problem I had? What does it mean? For humor, I have this trick to put the oddball thing at the end of a list of normal sounding items, but that’s not this. I think I know what this means in a way I can’t articulate, but I’m pondering this, too.

Every paragraph has to earn its length or justify its brevity.
On a long passage, even if it’s just setup, it should develop characters and power relationships. And long passages should end with something punchy, not just trail off.

Clause too far
I still have such trouble with this!! This is a special problem of mine, where I keep spinning on when I don’t need to, strengthening what was already said. Usually a prepositional phrase.  This is the hardest one on the list, and I still do it! 

Get rid of dead words
This is usually the intellectual version of something. Acknowledge, replaced, contribute, indicate, those are dead words. "Replace with active, something that makes a picture" was my advice to myself on this one.  

Edit for rhythm and don’t overuse the same construction, like subject-verb-object.
I've really embraced this one. These days, it just bugs me when this isn't right. 

Reduce clauses
Six months ago I was living a different life
>Six months ago my life was different.
And a business degree I’d stretched into an MBA
>And a business degree stretched into an MBA

I could still be more heads up on this one. And, I think it's vaguely related to clause-too-far.

Accurate, specific words
I rattle off lots of robber sayings
>I rattle off lots of robber lore
>I rattle off lots of robber wisdom

I open the door
>I fling open the door

This accurate words one is another area I can still stand to watch. 

Ah my old editing list. The fight goes on. Let me know if you have any insights on the lists one or tighten and extend scene and person description!