By Cait Collins
Editing and proofreading are not among my favorite writing tasks. First of all it’s time consuming. And there’s always that sneaky little error that escapes my computer checks and my eyes. Still the cosmetic surgery must be done in order to produce the best possible product. Each writer has his own method of editing and proofreading, but there are some basics that may help us.
1. Develop a two-step approach. There is a difference in editing and in proofreading. Editing focuses on the style, flow, accuracy and completeness of the story, poem or novel. Proofreading emphasizes the mechanics such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Editing first and then proofreading could save time and duplication of effort.
2. Check the following when editing a project.
- Accuracy. Are all names correct? Is the time line consistent? Does the character with blue eyes in chapter one have blue eyes in chapter 16?
- Completeness. Is the story finished? Have all the questions been answered? Has each character’s story line come to a satisfying conclusion?
- Structure. Does each chapter have an introduction? Are the paragraphs logically arranged? Does each chapter have a hook that makes the reader want to know what will happen next?
- Clarity. Is the story easy to follow? Is the plot complex enough to hold interest yet simple enough to be reader friendly? Are there sufficient tag lines to tell who is speaking, or are dialogue sequences cluttered with too much he said/she said?
- Conciseness. Are the sentences to the point, or are they wordy and run on? Is the dialogue sharp and clean or do the characters stumble through the scene? Are descriptions sufficient to anchor the scene, or are they overdone?
- Tone. Is the tone appropriate to the scene? Are the characters speech patterns appropriate for age, occupation, background, and social status? Are dialects salted throughout the work, or are they over used?
3. Distance emotions from the editing process. While writers have a relationship with their characters and story, not every scene or line of dialogue moves the plot. Be open to putting even the most favorite scenes on the chopping block if they are not needed. The goal is to create an exciting story, not justify each word.
4. Whenever possible, take a break before starting the editing process. Trying to edit the minute after typing “The End” is not always productive. A few hours or even a couple of days may provide better prospective.
5. Once the initial editing is complete, reread the work to make sure the edits have not created issues with the story. Correct any inconsistencies before moving forward.
6. When the edits are complete, it’s time to proofread the project. Take a break. Proofreading is the subject of the next Outtake.