History That Never Was

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Self-Editing Tips, Part 2

Red pen and edited manuscriptLast week, I shared three tips about editing your own writing. This week, I’m back with a couple more!

4) Listen to Feedback! If you’re writing and submitting stories, or if you have a critique group or beta readers, you may wind up with some feedback on your writing. It’s less common for story submissions to receive feedback on the quality of the writing, but sometimes you might get comments about, for example, flat characters, pacing problems, or confusing action sequences. And while some of that may point toward craft improvements you could work on, some of it may also point to things you can learn to improve in your writing. Flat characters might mean that you need to edit your work with an eye toward differentiating characters through their dialogue and body language. Pacing problems could mean that your writing is overly wordy. Confusing action sequences could mean that the language you’re using to describe the action needs careful attention to detail.

It’s important to note that some feedback may not point to grammatical things in your writing. And it’s also important to take all feedback with a grain of salt. But, as Neil Gaiman says, Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

5) Be Wary of Software “Corrections”! If you use Microsoft Word to write, you’re familiar with the squiggly red lines and blue lines that indicate typos and grammatical errors … or do they? If you’re writing British English, Word is going to hate every word that Americans don’t use the letter “U” in (like honor/honour). If you’re writing fantasy, the odds are very good that at least one name in your story isn’t a “real” word according to Word. And if you write anything approximating actual human dialogue, you enter the land of the squiggly blue lines that don’t like contractions or people who don’t speak in business English.

And that’s exactly the problem with the “corrections” that software offers up. The spelling and grammar checkers in most software are designed to help people write for business purposes. They’re not meant to help fiction writers. If you’re a newer fiction writer and you accept the suggestions that Word gives you, you will likely end up with a grammatically accurate story, but one that will lose your voice. You can certainly look at the suggestions that Word makes, but don’t accept them blindly.

Next week, I’ll close this series out with a couple of concrete tips, and one that will likely make you cry a little bit. (I’m a professional editor, and it makes me cry a little bit.)

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