Okay, so you have three weeks before you have to turn in your novel to the publisher (or upload it, if you’re self-publishing). It’s tough to read the entire manuscript one more time, since you’ve been working on it for the last X months. Perhaps years! So here are some tricks I use on my final edits:
1. Print out your manuscript. I put it on a thumb drive and take it to the local business center where they print it double sided with a spiral binding. Cost: about $40. First of all, it’s nice to physically hold the product of all your sweat and tears in your hands! In addition, reading and editing your novel on paper is vastly different than editing it on screen. Get a red pen and step away from the computer!
2. Edit backwards, chapter by chapter. Here’s a previous post on why.
3. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t feel right, read it aloud. You’ll hear if it goes on too long or if a word doesn’t fit.
4. In blocks of dialogue: make sure you mix up the tags. In other words, don’t do this:
“Fantastic!” he replied.
“So, do you want to live together?” she asked.
“Absolutely!” he shouted.
5. Watch names in dialogue, John. Your characters should not keep calling each other by name, as it sounds awkward and isn’t authentic. It’s a long-practiced technique of TV writers, so the viewer can catch up on who’s-who. But, John, please don’t do it in your novel. See what I mean, John? I swear, John, you’ll probably be able to remove most of them. John, you have to trust me on this one.
6. Tighten, tighten, tighten. “Ryan locked eyes with her” changes to “They locked eyes.”
7. Check your object articles: use ‘a’ the first time you introduce an object, and ‘the’ any time after that. Example: He chose a red pen to edit his screenplay, but the pen leaked all over the pages.
8. Make sure all POV changes are at a section or chapter break. And watch your POV violations! I’ve been teaching POV in my writing class for five years, and I still caught three violations in my latest manuscript. OOPS!
1. Do a global search for what I call “flat” verbs and “filter” verbs: look, feel/felt, walk, tell/told, breathed, heard, saw, decided, thought, sounded. Replace them with more active and vibrant verbs. You’re a writer, so dig deeper. I’ll write another post about this someday.
2. Just do a global search for the word “just” and just remove most of them.
3. Do a global search for duplicate words. “the the” is the most common.
4. If you’re older (like moi) and were taught to separate sentences with two spaces, do a global S/R for two spaces to one. I usually lose a page or two with that one!
5. Prune your adverbs. Do a global search for adverbs by searching for the letters LY with a space after it. Reword the sentence structure to eliminate them, if you can. Especially the suddenlys, probablys, and obviouslys. Yes, you may keep some, but use them…sparingly! See what I did there?
6. Well…are you an em-dash person or an ellipses person? Do a search for both–dash and ellipses–and see how many you can eliminate. Avoid ending sentences with either of them…
7. How many exclamation points can you take out of your manuscript? I bet it’s a lot! Check and see! I’ll give you ten at the most, but only in dialogue! There’s no place for exclamation points in narrative!
8. You get one ____ per book. You found a brilliant word that fits in the perfect sentence and will make your reader stop and sigh. Fantastic! But you get ONE and ONLY ONE per book. For my fourth book, the word was ‘tentacles.’
Enjoy the final stretch and let me know if you have any tips to add.