Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Abused and Overused

Every author is eventually confronted with the task of editing their books (prior to having the work seriously edited by a paid third party prior to publication). We each approach the task like the demolition expert wrapped in thick padding probing a shoebox with a stick. Will this be the one that explodes?

Editing is just one of the stages of the book’s progress from concept to reality. It must be done; there are no short cuts, no tricks, no easy path. In past blogs I’ve written about my process which is very similar to those mentioned in dozens of books about self-editing. Each author finds a process they are comfortable with and then continues to modify the methodology. But the simple truth is that some type of editing must be done.

There are three basic levels of editing: story editing, copyediting, and technical editing. Some may quibble over these levels but by the time the manuscript is substantially done much of the story is set. If not you aren’t faced with editing – you are facing a rewrite. That’s a big difference. Rewriting and editing are not the same.

Copyediting is about language and sentence structure. This is the art and voice of the author. As you reread the manuscript (I do this out loud), the timing and alliteration of the words and sentences is measured. Adjustments are made; the author’s voice becomes stronger. This is when you ask yourself: “Does it work, does it sing?”

The technical side is relatively simple, commas, periods, and em dashes and all that other stuff that makes it easier to read and understand the manuscript. I have a shelf full of references that help when I run into a problem (and to be honest my biggest is commas – I tend to put in more than I need or should). And don’t ask about em dashes and/or the plain old variety, I still don’t have a clue. And parenthesis and brackets – for years I thought they were the same.

At the technical stage there are some tricks (and software) I use that help immeasurably. Like broadcasting there are words we shouldn’t use in books. Of course we overuse all the naughty words, our books are questionably richer by their use. It shows we’re hip, cool, earthy, and can’t be cowed. No, the these words are those that contribute little to the MS, they're lazy words. Sure we need them but their use must be seriously restricted.

I use a good piece of software that breaks down the whole MS into chewable chunks that are dispassionately displayed allowing me to look at words in every instance they are used. It also lists adverbs, clichés, and how often a word or phrase appears. The software, Bad Wolf’s SmartEdit, is getting better and better but unfortunately is still only available for Windows based computers (a partitioned Mac with Windows is one way to go or a PC).

Here are a couple of dozen words that seldom add to the MS. They have some value but we tend to use them too much. I ignore them when I’m writing the first drafts but become more aware of their cheap and tawdry behavior as I hone the writing. With or without the SmartEdit software you can hunt and find these posers – they must be cut out (or find a better way of saying what you mean).

In no particular order they are:
Used to
Have got

More Later . . . . . . . . . . . .

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