Some quick tips to keep in mind when you are editing your work:*
- Take a break before you begin. If you just finished writing a masterpiece, take a moment and walk away from the screen. This gives you a chance to get away from the screen, so that when you sit down again, you will see what’s actually there instead of what you thought was there.
- Ok, now it’s time to get started. Let’s begin by asking yourself if your words make sense. Did you say what you wanted to say? Awesome! Buckle down. You’re ready to start editing.
- Check your tense. Did you start in present tense? Stay there. Are you in past tense? Stay there. Don’t bounce between tenses unless there is a logical reason to do so. If your story is 2nd person future, you will be keeping it that way the whole time. Unless there is some time travel happening, keep the tense consistent.
- Check your person and number. If you start with 1st person (I, me, my), you should stay there. Please don’t jump to 1st person plural (we, us) unless your speaker has developed multiple personality disorder or is royalty. If you start with 3rd person (he, she, it, they), don’t suddenly jump to 1st or 2nd person.**
- Check your dialogue format. Each new speaker should be indented. Each quote should have the proper punctuation and maybe even a tag line (she said). Unless you want to be like Hemingway and have readers count lines to determine the speaker, you should probably identify the speaker somehow; he said and she said gets really old after a while, but it’s better than no tags at all. Identify your speaker in other ways (the older man said, the girl squeaked, the tall man cried).
- Check your commas. I know, I know, commas are overrated, but they are how readers navigate your soup of words. There are only six main reasons to use a comma. If one of those situations doesn’t apply, don’t use the comma. Avoid comma abuse.
- If you want, think about your word choice. Are you using big words just for the sake of using big words? Did you overuse the Thesaurus option in Word? Sometimes, less is more; simple is preferable. Does your main character, the high school student, start using words way above (or below) the expected vocabulary when it doesn’t matter?
*You do edit your own work, of course, right? The answer should be a resounding “YES!” You should read your work at least twice before you send it off to anyone else–whether sympathetic friends or complete strangers. You won’t catch everything, of course. That’s what friends and editors are for. But you are the first line of defense here, and it’s up to you to do the first round of heavy lifting. Words are your tools. You should use them properly so that your amazingly wonderful brilliant world can show up in someone else’s mind. Asking for help is great, but you should give all of your words a once-over before you set them free from your computer. This list gives you some things to focus on.
**Using 2nd person in your story is wonderful, but incredibly challenging. You are asking the reader to become the “you” of whom you speak. If the reader can relate to the “you,” your story works brilliantly. If the reader is not the “you” of whom you speak, you have just knocked the reader out of the story. You do have some leeway here–you may want to comment to the reader or ask a rhetorical question now and then; usually this works just fine. But it can backfire when the narrative voice gets too involved in the story (You know what I mean, right, right, RIGHT?!). Use Control F to find the “yous” in your wok. Ask yourself if you need all of them. If there’s no pressing reason to use “you,” replace it with the person you mean.