Monday, May 26, 2014

Editing in Layers: Seven Things to Search For In Your Manuscript

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.


For the duration of this series on editing, Jill and I have had the ebook version of our editing book, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book, on sale for $2.99. Today will be the LAST DAY for that sale. So, if you want it, now's the time.

Previous posts in this series:

If you've edited a scene in layers thus far, you've fixed your point of view inconsistencies. You've clarified your characters' goals. You researched your setting and filled in those missing details. Your bland nouns and verbs have been replaced to better draw out emotion.



Now we do the nitty gritty stuff. Or, in keeping with our cake-baking metaphor, now we frost.

Why's all this boring stuff I'm about to list considered the frosting? Because this is the layer that's going to create the cohesive package of your book. These are the details that make a book so smooth and effortless to read, you forget it's  not real. A poorly frosted cake is going to look terrible no matter how amazing the layers underneath are, and if you don't take care of these details, you risk your readers not being able to experience the rich emotions and twists you've created.

Here are seven things to search for in your manuscript:

1. Dialogue tags

As I do my other layers of edits, I remove as many dialogue tags as possible but inevitably a few have escaped my notice. At the end, I run a search in my manuscript for my common tagssaid and askedand evaluate them one-by-one. Sometimes the tag inexplicably works best, and I allow them to stay. Normally I try to replace them with an action beat or emotion beat.

2. Was

Or "is" if you're writing in present tense. Was is the phrase that hints you've lapsed into a passive voice. Not all wases (boy, that's strange looking) are passive but many are.


3. Pointless adverbs

You can do this by running a search for "ly" words. Not all adverbs need to be destroyed. Just the ones that can be replaced by a stronger verb. Instead of my character "walking quickly" to the door I might have her "race" to the door. That kind of thing.

Sometimes adverbs are used in dialogue and those I tend to leave. Occasionally, I use an adverb for voice purposes. One character might describe another as "horridly slow," and I'll keep that because I like how it sounds for that character.

4. Pet words

Every writer has words that they tend to overuse, and sometimes the list changes with each story. "Quirk" is a big one for me. People's eyebrows and mouths do a lot of quirking in my early drafts. I know to search for that one.

When you've chosen a unique word, you want to be careful to not keep repeating it. That's very noticeable to readers. 

5. Pet punctuation

That might sound a little weird, but many writers have a form of punctuation that they overuse. Mine are ellipses and em-dashes (These guys: —) Yours might be exclamation points or parentheses. Whatever they are, keep a close eye on them during edits.

6. Weasel words

These are words that sneak into sentences without you realizing it. Just, little, very, so, suddenly. They're not bad words to use, but you do want to make sure you're using them intentionally.

7. Your common typos.

I've noticed that I have a few recurring typos. Often I type "think" for "thing" or "image" for "imagine." And a really bizarre typo that I've found twice now in a manuscript of mind is "heart over her hand" instead of "hand over her heart." 

Here's a list of Jill's and my "weasel words" that we've made available for you to print out.

Once I've exhausted my search and find feature, I like to either read my book out loud or, better yet, have my book read to me. I've used the free version of Natural Reader, and I really like it. Supposedly my Kindle will read to me, but I haven't tried that out yet.

This gets tedious, and I don't always have time for it, but I love the results when I do. Not only does it prevent me from finishing the work day with a sore throat, but the monotone computer voice helps me to catch what I'm looking for. Which is:

  • Patterns in my sentence structure: It's tough to notice that you've started four sentences in the same way unless you're reading outloud.
  • Repetitive words: Like using the word "door" twice in one sentence or that you used a noticeable word multiple times too close to each other.
  • Pet phrases: This is when you'll hopefully notice phrasings you tend to overuse or that multiple characters unintentionally have the same catch phrase or mantra.
After I've done all this, I feel pretty confident that I've caught everything I'm capable of seeing. Then I trust my editors to help me find the rest.

I've had a few people email me to ask how you know when you're done with story edits, so we'll talk about that next Monday. If you have other editing questions you'd like answered, you can ask them below!








25 comments:

  1. Finished my first draft last night and just bought the book as a gift to myself! Thank you for being so helpful!

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    1. Congratulations on finishing your first draft! That's excellent!

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  2. I can't wait to finish my first draft of my first novel and use this series to edit it! Two questions. How long does it take for you to edit your first draft? Also, if you get rejected by an agent or publisher, do you go back and start editing your draft all over again using the same process, or do you use a shortened process? Or do you just go on to querying other agents/submitting to other publishers without editing it more? Thanks.

    http://www.butterfliesoftheimagination.weebly.com/

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    1. These are great questions! I'll answer them in next week's installment. Thanks!

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  3. I had "You're not as smart as you thing you are..." twice in one book. My sister caught it in edits thankfully!

    I also notice 'gingerly' is one of my weasel words. My characters are always lowering themselves gingerly onto a chair or gingerly taking a sip of something.

    I wrote a novella and noticed with my microsoft search I had 850 words ending in 'ly' in a 30,000 word book. I have to get more imaginative in my descriptions :)

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    1. Hooray for your sister! And for the word search feature in Microsoft. It saves me a lot of time!

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    2. Microsoft word search is amazing and sometimes intimidating when I see all the highlighted words :)

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  4. I can’t wait until I finish first drafting and can finally put these excellent tips to use!

    Ah, typos...I have so many quirky recurring ones (Ex: “Meredith slumped her soldiers.” It is slightly disturbing how often I confuse ‘shoulders’ and ‘soldiers’.) and priceless ones that only show up once (Like when I am forcing myself to write late at night and find that my MC yawned when she was supposed to have gasped.) that I have started a pages file I’m calling a “Gag Reel” for my novel, which will be accompanied by “Deleted Scenes” once I begin edits.

    Speaking of typos, yesterday I emailed you a question and typed Skylar Hoyt as Skylar Hoyth, with an ‘h’ on the end. *face palm*. Sorry about that.

    My weasel words are gently, just, and very. There’s a Mark Twain quote I like that goes: “Substitute 'd-word' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Only the quote has the actual word... As you can tell, ellipses is one of my pet punctuations...

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    1. Mark Twain has lots of great quotes - I love that one! And I didn't even notice the typo in Skylar's name :)

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  5. Love this! You guys know so much and have helped me a lot :) Thanks for taking the time to run a blog for the young writers!

    I do have a question, but it's pretty unrelated to editing. How does one find time to write when swamped with activities like homework, housework, and/or jobs? I would really like to get back to work on my novel, but it's so, so long (I'd planned to read through it before starting the second draft--and it's been so long since I've read the first half that I might need to go and do it again!) and I just don't think I have the time.

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    1. That's a great question, Hannah. Some seasons of life are certainly harder than others. Maybe this post will help: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/11/time-management-for-writers.html

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  6. Ha! I have the same "pet punctuations" as you do. :)

    My pet words actually tend to change from story to story...one I've already noticed I'm using a LOT in the first draft in progress is "force." "I force myself to look her in the eye," "I force a smile," "I force myself to speak slowly," etc. etc. etc. Definitely need to fix some of that.

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    1. That's one of my pet peeves in my writing and other people's. I use "force" so much. 'I forced myself to be quiet.' 'I forced a hopefully cheerful smile.' !!! And yes, I have a whole lot of other problems. like active or passive for example. And I tend to overuse similes.

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    2. I hadn't thought of force! I should check mine for that too...

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  7. My weasel word is "smile". Everyone seems to be smiling half the time. :) Of course some of them are plastic "cheerleader smiles" and some of them are genuine, but I'll really have to work on that word in edits.

    http://teensliveforjesus.blogspot.ru

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    1. Yep. Smiles. Nods. Eyebrow raises. Laughs. Eye rolls. That's all my characters do in the first draft!

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  8. Editing is my favorite, Steph. I want to do these things to my current WIP so very badly. But I haven't finished it yet, so I can't. Must. Write. Many. Words!

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    1. And especially THIS stage of editing, where it's just the polishing. Sigh... I'm still in the ripping it apart so I can put it back together phase of edits...

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  9. Do I need to worry about any of this on the first draft? I'm a ridiculous perfectionist, and I want it to be amazing /right now/. I find myself going back and trying to fix these things, even though I'm only on the second chapter…sigh. Any tips for first drafters?

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    1. Hi, Krissy! I hope Stephanie & Jill don't mind my butting in ;) I can't say I've ever experienced hard-core "perfectionism," because I'm not really that way. But I think one of the best things you can do with your first draft is enjoy it. This is where you don't have to be worried about editing because it's more about taking the first step towards something bigger and better--a lot of it is just getting your ideas down on paper so you know where you're headed and what you do and do not want in your second draft. When we get into perfecting too much, we lose our joy in the process and quickly burn out--and then find it hard to finish the first draft in the first place. I think the awesome thing about first draft is that you get to really "know" your characters and fall in love with their stories :) Knowing that you don't have to go back and edit something out is where you really become a part of their world, IMO. Anyway ... good luck! I hope this helped ... sort of ;) But I do know that GTW has a lot of info on first drafts--even on writing "bad" ones!

      walking in the air.

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    2. I second everything Hannay said. You'll make yourself crazy trying to write a book like that, Krissy. I think I addressed some of that in the early part of the first editing post: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2014/05/how-to-edit-your-novel-in-layers.html

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  10. This list helps. My editor just reminded me of the word, "was." I'm hunting for it now.

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  11. One of my goals this year, is to provide more constructive/useful critiques for the other writers in my weekly group. Your article was very helpful to me in providing clear details to enrich writing, enthrall the reader, and keep them engaged.
    Thank you!

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