For this post, you're getting the infamous piece of free advice (you know, the stuff that's worth what you pay for it according to the old axiom). I hope you will find this useful even though it costs nothing, especially if you are a beginning writer.
To me, there's nothing like opening up a book and finding an error on the first page I look at. And then finding more on the second and third and every succeeding page. Nothing that kills my pleasure in reading faster, especially if the book was written by a friend and I really, really wanted to like it. I would have loved it, if only the author had done a better job of editing.
I take that back, there is something that kills the pleasure just as fast, and that is the book that bores me more with each page and serves as a cure for insomnia. The story idea was great, that's why I picked it up, but the author never put in the revision effort necessary to make the story live up to it's promise. I'm not talking about the occasional misplaced comma or spelling error or even the character who turns from a blond to a brunette halfway through the story sans benefit of a trip to the beauty shop for a dye job. Either of these can ruin a story, but lack of continuity and missing character motivations are the worst.
Revision and editing are two separate processes. They occur at different points in the lifecycle of a manuscript and produce two different results. Both are needed to transform your initial draft into something readers will enjoy and recommend to their friends. It's important for author to understand what both processes provide to strengthen and improve a manuscript.
RevisionYou know what you want to say. In many cases you can see the story laid out in your head on an internal storyboard. Then you go to write that draft and what seems so clear in your mind's eye makes little sense on the page. Worst of all, you discover that scene A really cannot happen before scene C, or even before scene J.
Revision deals with your story as a whole unit and makes sure you say what you meant for readers to get. During the revision effort you go through the whole manuscript to seek out and eliminate problems like plot holes and wimpy characters. During revision you may expand upon ideas that are not as clear on the page as they were in your head. Attention to the story as a whole makes your writing flow and sparkle.
Look at things like:
- Scene order: Check to see if the all scenes have an emotional impact. Look for continuity errors. See if you need to move or remove entire paragraphs, scenes, or chapters. Or add new content.
- The way the character's inner journey's progress in relation to the plot and each other.
- Word choice - (do characters speak softly or do they murmur)
- Sentence fluency: Are your sentences varied yet easily readable and organized? Do you start too many the same way?
- Ask yourself overall questions about your story and writing voice. For example: Do I really need all of these characters or can some roles be collapsed into one individual? Or: Is the motivation for my character's action clear to a reader?
Word of caution - Revision means change and not all change is for the better. You may decide that what you wrote was better the first time, or you could decide that you really need a different change. Revision can be a very messy process. This is one situation when talking to yourself is valuable. Articulate WHY you need to make a change, why you think your story is not working the way it is and what you're trying to achieve before you make the change to reduce the possibility you will need to change yet again.
While revision is done by looking at the overall story, editing happens at the sentence level. Editing is the step that makes your story look better and improves the correctness of your message. Editing is for sentence-level details and changes. Do this after you have an acceptable draft - there is no point in editing a chapter and then discovering you need to change the entire chapter and/or deleting it. Editing primarily involves checking for flaws in general grammar and writing conventions.
I always revise anything larger than a paragraph on a hard copy, on the screen I have difficulty seeing the big picture of a full scene or chapter.
No matter how painful it is, (and I admit to hating the editing process, especially around the subject of commas) this step can't be skipped. I find that reading the story out loud helps because my ear finds things like clumsy rhythms, repeated text or words, awkward and complex sentences, missing words, and similar problems that my eyes miss because they KNOW what I meant to say.
My Own Process
Someone once asked me how many times I edited my work. I realized she meant editing and revision, but I really couldn't tell her. I don't count. If I did, the number would be so high even I would become depressed. I revise, edit, and revise again, rinse and repeat, time after time. I go through cycles when I absolutely hate my own words, others when, in the words of the A-team's leader - "I love it when a plan comes together." I don't stop until the message is clear to beta readers. Because no matter how beautiful you think your babies are, you can't let them out in the world on their own until they are ready.
I usually revise and then edit, and then revise and edit again. And then I get someone else to look at my work, because I can't see all of Junior's flaws. A developmental editor can help during the revision stage. A line or copy editor functions during the editing phase. Really consider making use of these kinds of professionals, especially if you intend self-publishing. To paraphrase an old commercial: Quality should go in before you attach your name.
Right now I am coming to the end of the cycle with my first MG novel. Literally, the last round of edits are almost over, there is one major scene that needs a revision/rewrite and then final edit, and then it's off to my agent (after almost a year of writing, revision and editing). To me the time and effort was worth it. I hope readers will say the same thing. As for you guys, please forgive any errors you find in this post. I know there must be something wrong, there usually is.
Now, consider sharing your thoughts and/or process with others. I'd love to hear from you about your editing and revision efforts.