Editing Techniques: Taking a Break and Reading Aloud

This post is the thirty-sixth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Over the past few weeks, I have been discussing revising and editing your novel. You will go through several drafts, and these two tips can be employed at any time to help you refine your writing.

Take a Break

You have spent a good chuck of time writing your novel. And then you begin editing and revising it. It is easy when you have spent this much time on a project to lose your objectivity or get in a rush to be done with it. This is the time when you need to take a break.

Yes, that is right. One of the best tips is to take time off. Whether it is just a few days, a few weeks or even a few months, you need to get your mind off your current project. When you return, you will have a clear mind and will be able to view your novel with “fresh eyes.”

Now it is up to you to decide just how much time you want or need to spend away from your work in progress. Every author has their own preference of how much time they need off and what they want to do during that time.

You might take the time to do some pre-release publicity or you might begin work on another story idea. Some authors switch between working two different stories. They do draft one on one story, then draft one on the other story. Then follow with the other drafts switching back and forth.

I don’t take a break after my first draft, but I like taking a short break between drafts two and three, and then another short break whenever I am getting ready for my final read through.

Read Aloud

Often when we read silently, our mind skips small errors and typos. Reading aloud forces you to notice every single word. It can help you notice run-on sentences, missing words, awkward transitions as well as other grammatical or organizational issues. It also lets you hear the dialogue allowing you to determine if the dialogue sounds realistic.

The key to reading aloud is to make sure you are reading exactly what is on the printed page (or computer screen if you don’t want to print out your text.) You may want to follow along with your finger, pointing at each word. This helps you stay focused and not skip anything. Or you may want to cover up everything but the section you are currently reading so you concentrate on just it and not what is to come.

Another option is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. This helps you focus just on the text and not the ideas. It can be especially helping you catch sentence fragments.

Methods to reading aloud

Read aloud to yourself – This is self-explanatory. You can even pretend you are the famous actor/actress doing the audio version of your book.

Read to a friend – This can allow a second pair of ears to hear the prose and allow for additional feedback on what is missing or needs improving.

Have someone else read aloud – Allowing a friend to read to you lets you concentrate only on what is being read. You can note where your friend stumbles or gets lost. You do not necessarily need to follow along as they read but can certainly do so to make notes and corrections as long as you don’t start reading ahead.

An alternative to this would be to have the computer read to you. This works great as the computer will definitely read EVERY word.

For those of you who use Microsoft Word, this feature is already available to you. If you use another software that doesn’t have a speech feature, you can find many web-based services that can help you get your computer, smart phone, tablet or e-reader to read your work out loud for you. (Search ‘text to speech’ or ‘text reader.’)

For MSWord – At the very top of the screen is your Quick Access bar (circled in the below image). Click on the down arrow (Drop Down Menu) on the right. Select More Commands.

On the left side is a list of features/tools you can add to your Quick Access Bar. Go down to Speak and click the button to add it to your bar. (If you don’t see it under “Popular Commands,” then select “All Commands” from the drop-down menu above the left column.) Click OK.

To listen to your text, highlight the text to be read and then click the Speak icon (now located on your Quick Access Bar). It is that simple.

No matter which reading aloud method you choose to use, reading your novel aloud will be beneficial as will taking a break from your editing.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

#35 – Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

This post is the thirty-fifth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Over the past several posts, I have written about the many different drafts your novel will go through and some of the different editing techniques that you can use to reduce wordiness or strengthen your novel.

And when I have done a majority of my changes and am on what I am hoping is my final draft, I find I need something to keep me on track and remind me of all the areas that I need to focus on.

I am unsure where I got this revision outline. I believe it was condensed down and adjusted one from an online writing class I took years ago. But it serves its purpose and ensures I do a complete job of editing on my final draft.

Even though the notes say to do only one of these at a time, I typically do several at once working on each chapter separately.

Revision Outline

Do only ONE step at a time. If you find another area that needs work – mark it and then continue with the current fine-tuning project. Work in block sections (defined by chapters). Complete each “block” before going on.

Structure – develop a clear, compelling plot.

a.)    Look for scenes that are passive/dialogue with no tension.

b.)    Scenes that don’t build or are anti-climactic.

NOTES: Each scene has a beginning, middle and end – there must be a climax/tension spot for each scene – make sure dialogue scenes have tension and are not just “passing time.”

Texture – Sharpen descriptive passages to make characters, setting, and action more vivid – SHOW, DON’T TELL

a.)    Look for too much/too little description

b.)    Clichés

c.)    Too many adjectives/adverbs

d.)   Information dumps

e.)    Background or setting info in the wrong place

Dialogue – Elicit character personality through conversation

a.)    Look at taglines (placement, too many, too few, too much extra information)

b.)    No information dump

c.)    Bland or melodramatic lines

NOTES: Read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural/realistic.

Editing – Tighten pace and continuity

a.)    Look for repetition through implication

b.)    Remove slow passages

NOTES: Cut, cut, cut! Don’t repeat what the reader already knows or what is implied elsewhere. Be ruthless! Tighten up the copy without fear of shortening the novel.

Blending – search and destroy any weakness.

a.)    Look for soft spots – unclear character motivations, actions that seem contrived.

b.)    Fix by expanding or adding a scene so the novel flows.

Hopefully this outline helps you with your revision but feel free to adapt it to what does fit your style of editing and revising.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

This post is the thirty-third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

In the process of editing your novel, you may want to turn it others to help you polish your story. Today I am going to discuss beta readers, proofreaders, and copy editors.

Beta Reader

Related imageWhat is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye before it is released to the public. They may catch spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike editors, these people are usually unpaid and often see your work in a rough state.

The term beta reader comes from the software industry where “beta” testers try out software before a major release to the public in order to identify problems.

Why use a beta reader?

Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before submitting it for professional editing and critique. Beta readers may question why a character does or does not do something. They may catch errors such as a change of location (the fight takes place in a bar but is later told to have taken place at the school), the way a character is dressed (a blue shirt all of a sudden is red) or which characters are in the room at the time (Charles may have left for work but then appears in a scene at home).

The fact is that as authors, we are so close to our own manuscripts that we cannot see them objectively. Things that are clear in our mind, may not come across the same way to others reading it. We may leave out vital steps in an explanation and not realize it since we know what we mean. Beta readers allow you to fine tune and polish your work before presenting it to the world.

How to find a beta reader?

There are websites that provide directories of beta readers broken down by genre. Or you can post on writing forums that you are looking for a beta reader or even post on your own blog.

Of course, you can also find a beta reader in your family or from your fan base but be warned their comments may not totally be objective.

Finding a good beta reader – one who reads your genre and is of your target market in terms of age, gender and interest – can be a lot of work but worth it. You need someone who will tell you the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings. Writers typically make good beta readers as they understand the writing/creative process.

To use a beta reader, you need a “thick skin” to be able to hear negative feedback, absorb it, learn from it and apply changes derived from it.

Proofreader

Image result for proofreaderA proofreader is someone who looks over your manuscript for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. A proofreader should see your manuscript AFTER all the editing and after beta readers have made their suggestions (and you have made all your changes). Basically, they should see your manuscript when it is ready for publication. Their job is NOT to make revisions but to make corrections.

In the world of publishing paper books, a proofreader was one of the last to review the book. They would be looking at the final copy as it would print. If there were too many end-of-line hyphens in a row or a blank section break at the top of a page, they would correct those and other esthetic issues in addition to checking grammar and spelling.

Nowadays, as software improves, the need for someone to proofread for spelling and grammar errors diminishes and you may want to use grammar software such as Grammerly or WhiteSmoke. These are comprehensive grammar checking programs but of course no software can completely replace having someone proof your work. (I will discuss these programs in more detail in a future post.)

Many proofreaders charge by the hour while others charge by the word. Copy editors also usually offer proofreading as part of their services.

Copy Editor

Related imageWhile proofreading is done at the end, an editor may work over long periods of time with a writer until the manuscript is perfected. It is a much more involved process that can take months. And while some may argue editing also refers to finding typos and grammar errors, editing involves one major factor that proofreading does not: content.

A copy editor reads your work and makes corrections so it follows the conventions of good writing. They can find flaws in your story or help you flesh out a sub-plot.  They refine word choices and make sure the manuscript’s syntax is smooth. The copy editor may suggest reorganizing, recommend changes to chapter titles and call out lapses in logic or sequential slip-ups. They will ensure continuity through chapters and ensure dialog is believable.

If employing both, use an editor first and then the proofreader afterwards.  Editors may charge by the hour, by the page or even by the word.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

You have finally finished your first draft of your story. Now comes the real work. The cutting, the editing, the rewriting, the expanding to make your first work closer into a publishable novel.

So how many drafts does that take?

There is no correct answer. It takes as many as it takes. I tend not to break down each going through of my novel as a “draft.” As I write the first draft, I am already going back and reworking it (see my post on editing and writing at the same time). And the second draft may take just as long as the first because it is multiple reads and re-working of the first draft. (But never a full re-write of the story as some authors say they do on their second draft.)

If pressed, I would say I do three drafts. Here is a general outline of my drafts.

First Draft

The first draft is obviously when you just get your story out. It may be rough or wordy, but you got the basic plot and characters down. Now how well this draft goes depends on many things. If you developed your world and characters or outlined your story, this draft will probably go better than if you just “winged” it.

Some authors consider the first draft a “junk” or “vomit” draft. This is for the people who just type without any planning or editing as they write. They write to get something on the page. I don’t write this way so my first draft never falls in this category. (See above about editing and writing at the same time.)

Second Draft

The second draft is going to involve some re-writing as well as cutting. You expand sections to add description and make your characters come alive. You delete scenes that don’t advance your story – even if they are well-written and your favorite. You make sure the timeline works.  Sometimes you may rework an area once or twice. Maybe you will rewrite it many more times.  (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)

Optionally, you may have more drafts of rewriting depending on how much work your story needs. So this could possibly be drafts two through four…or five or even more.

When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.

Note: One key to improving your editing is to take a break from the book between drafts. You will return with “fresh” eyes and catch more things that need to be changed.

Third Draft

The third draft is more about polishing. It is perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. This can be laborious as I can always find thing that I want to tweak and fix. But your goal is to finish the book, not keep piddling around with the same manuscript.

And finally you end with one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will deem it ready for publishing.

Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.

Steps to writing a novel

While looking for new topics to write about for this blog, I did a search for the steps to writing a novel. And found that most of the steps listed were already topics that I have done. I guess after doing this for so many year this is the problem I face.

So rather than keep searching for new topics (though I am always doing that and open to suggestions), I thought I would go ahead publish the outline of what it takes to plan, write and edit a novel for publication.

PLANNING

This is an important step and goes beyond just getting a notepad and pen or a computer equipped with word-processing software. Before you write your first word, you need to do some planning or you will be doing A LOT of editing and revising.

  1. First you need an idea. Maybe you already have one or a dozen. Or perhaps you know you want to write but no clue about what. This then would mean you need to brainstorm for a story idea.
  2. And once you have your idea picked, you still need to analyze it to make sure it is strong enough to sustain a whole novel or perhaps you will decide it is better for a short story or novella or even scrap that plot idea and move on to another one.
  3. Create a list of characters – both major and minor. Develop your major characters through character profiles. Failure to do this step could lead to unbelievable or flat characters. You also need to decide what point of view to tell your story. (And if you do third person, how many POV characters there will be.)
  4. Pick you setting (which could mean developing a whole other world or even just a small town).
  5. Develop your plot. Make sure there is a compelling question the protagonist needs to answer. Consider the beginning, middle and end of the novel. Now some people love to outline their whole novel while others like to “fly by the seat of their pants” so to speak. This means they start with a general idea but don’t plot out every move of their novel. They focus more on letting the characters drive the story.

WRITING

Once you have your prep work done, you are ready to begin writing.

  1. When writing your first draft, many experts suggest you just write. Don’t worry if what you write is perfect but get the ideas down on paper. I have a habit of writing and editing at the same time. But for someone new to this, it is probably easier to just write. And no one said you need to write chronologically. If you feel the urge to write a scene that happens later in the story, then go ahead and get those thoughts down while they are fresh in your mind.
  2. Of course with writing sometimes writers block sets in. It happens to all writers and there are numerous suggestions out there on how to get through it.

EDITING

Once your first draft is done, you can begin the next step of editing and shaping your novel. (Here is a revision check list that might help.)

  1. One of the first things to do is to look at what was said. You go back a read and adjust it and then read and adjust some more. Some of the things you are looking for…
    1. Viewpoint – make sure it is consistent and is clear to the reader when you change from one view point to another. (Change should be done in sections or chapters. Make sure you aren’t thought jumping from one character to another.)
    2. Characters – make sure their behavior is consistent throughout the book. Yes, people change but gradually. (For help on content editing, click here.)
    3. Setting – Is the setting described enough, too much or perhaps not at all? Make sure your readers have at least some sense of where the story is taking place
    4. Inconsistencies – Check your plot, setting and descriptions for inconsistencies. Maybe originally your character was in a blue sweater and later you refer to the red dress she is wearing. Or in a murder mystery if the character originally was supposed to shoot someone but instead stabs them, you will need to look for any subsequent references to the murder and make sure that a knife is mentioned and not a gun.
    5. Novel Overview – Look at the pace (is the first chapter too slow?), can scenes be cut without effecting plot, are there any dull scenes, would it be better to rearrange the order of some events, does anything need to be added or expanded?
    6. Once you have gone through a few drafts and perfected your story it is time to start looking at your word choice and tightening/refining the prose. This is an excellent time to weed out unnecessary words or phrases and polish your writing.

When you are finally done with all this you should have a publishable novel. You still will want to have someone else read it – Beta readers or a professional editor or at the least a good friend who will give you an honest opinion.

After that it will be up to you whether you want to self-publish or go the other way and look for a traditional publishing house.

 

Editing a Novel Recap

proofThis week is Spring Break for my kids. As we have activities planned each day, I am going to take the easy way out and instead of writing something new, I am going to do a recap of some of my posts on editing your novel.

First Draft: Editing and Writing at the Same Time – One of my past posts was about writing your first draft. My advice to new writers was to just begin writing and not worry about editing until you had everything down. And this is great advice, but it isn’t how my first draft goes. (To read more, click here.)

Working on my second draft – I finished the first draft on my current work in progress at the end of September. Now to many a first draft is just getting the story down.

If you use an outline and plotted out your story, it might be in good shape. Or you may have just written whatever came to you and have a lot of work to do before reaching the final product. (To continue reading, click here.)

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft –  In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing. (To trim unnecessary words, click here.)

(This is obviously an important topic as I have written on it twice – once when completing Destiny and again when I finished up The Heir to Alexandria.)

Trimming excess words from your novel – As I am editing my latest work, Destiny, I noticed that my word count keeps decreasing as I polish the sentences and remove many unnecessary words.

I have found that one word I used a lot in my original draft which is totally unnecessary is “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence. (To read more, click here.)

Focusing on Content Editing –  I have discussed writing your first draft and even doing some editing as you write, but today I wanted to talk about content editing. This is where you aren’t fixing just wording or punctuation but looking more at the plot and characters. (To learn more, click here.)

Using a revision outline to guide editing your novel – Last week, I posted about content editing your novel. In the post, I mentioned that I use a revision outline, so I wanted to share that with you today. (To see the revision outline, click here.)

Picking stronger words – Today’s blog topic comes from helping my son do his homework last week. One of the assignments was to replace the verbs with stronger ones. (For help choosing stronger words, click here.)

Using beta readers to improve your novel – You have written your novel and been through it many times tweaking and perfecting the plot and scenes. You just know it will be well received. But if you think it is ready for publication now, you are missing a valuable step in the self-publishing process. As a writer you have been too close to your work. You may have not caught plot inconsistencies or realized the characters aren’t staying true to themselves. One of the best ways to catch these errors before submitting your work to an editor is to have your manuscript read by a – or better yet several – beta readers. (To continue reading, click here.)

Hopefully, you will find some useful information in these posts. And I promise a new post will be up next Thursday.

 

Trimming unnecessary words during my third draft

In October, I wrote about starting my second draft, which was all about fixing story errors and concentrating on the continuity of the storyline. In November, I began the third draft which is mainly about tightening my writing.

To start with, I looked at removing those unnecessary words and removing or changing words that I use too often. From my previous list and another one I found on the internet, I picked about 42 words to search out in my manuscript. I think as I went through these words I added 8 more words to the list.

proofBy using the Find feature in Word, I pulled up these words and then decided if they were necessary. Often they were not, and I deleted them or reworded the sentence. When I started, my novel was 101,355 words. I cut about 2,000 words. I can’t even begin to tell you how many words I ended up changing, but it was a lot.

I have the habit when I am writing my first draft to use my characters’ names a lot but as I clean up my novel, I replace those names with she, her, he or him as needed.

Another word I over use is “that.” I started with 956 and ended up deleting 300 of those.

After deleting or changing the words on my list, I began going over each chapter with my Revision Outline. This helps me review each section for structure and blending. I review dialogue and work on tightening the pace.

The outline instructions say to do each step one at a time, but I usually end up doing multiple steps at once. I also run my grammar program on each chapter when I am done with making my revisions.

Every so often – about every 10 chapters – I would go back and read aloud what was written. This is a great way to make sure everything sounds good. You can see if dialogue flows. And sometimes you catch that you use a word too often. I noted once that I had the word “room” five times in just three sentences. Needless to say, I changed that.

I am just finishing up the third draft. When I started, my novel was at 101,355 words. After the third draft, it has been trimmed down to 95,723 words. Yes – 5632 words were cut, but I know this is a better version of my story. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.

Now this draft is not my final one. After I get done making my changes, I will put it away for a few days and come back at look it with fresh eyes. Then I will read it again – probably aloud. I will also have my husband read it. He likes having the computer read it to him as he makes any notes of things that are rough or need work but at this stage that shouldn’t be much.

After that…it will be time to publish this baby!