Editing Tips: How to Do the Words

Let me paint you a picture. You’ve just finished your first draft. Corks have been popped, backs have been slapped, and you’re basking in the rosy glow of a job well done.

Except NO YOU’RE NOT, GET BACK TO WORK.

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That novel’s not going to write itself. (mage: tenor.com)

There’s a saying that writing is re-writing, and that’s by and large true, in my experience. It’s very easy to miss stuff on your first go round. But it’s pretty daunting to have just got to the end of a project and then realise that you’ve got to go right back to the beginning again. Whether you’re writing a novel or an essay, you’re always going to make mistakes in your first draft, but often it’s quite tricky to know exactly where to start.

Luckily for you guys, I am a mild-mannered editor by day and I am, like, the best at making sentences. Here’s some quick and dirty tips to use as a starting point.

 

 

  1. Check your spelling and grammar…

All the editing lists say this, and it’s because it’s true. If you’re writing fiction, having proper spelling and grammar will help a reader get into the story – they won’t get snapped out of it every time they see a typo. If you’re writing an essay, correct spelling and grammar will make you sound like you know what you’re talking about. (Also one time, at university, our tutor told my seminar group that someone had submitted their dissertation with an accidental swear word in there, so CHECK YOUR TYPOS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.)

 

  1. …but don’t stick to it too rigidly.

This really applies more to fiction than non-fiction, so if you’re writing an essay feel free to skip to the next step. Depending on the type of thing you’re writing, sticking to very rigid grammatical rules can sometimes work against you. By all means use the correct punctuation, but forcing all your sentences to fit into a very regimented pattern doesn’t always work well – it can be pretty boring. Mixing things up a bit in terms of sentence structure helps your writing feel interesting, so go ahead and start that sentence with ‘and’.

 

  1. Take a break.

Go for a walk. Look at some clouds. Have some dinner, or maybe a nap. Anything that will give you fresh eyes, because if you go straight back to the beginning after typing your final sentence, you’re going to be reading what you were going for instead of what’s actually there. Obviously this works better when you’ve got time to take a proper break, but even if you’re writing to deadline this will really help. Maybe just go for a run instead of taking a full week of R&R, otherwise your teachers will be mad at me. 

 

  1. Invest in a thesaurus…

Check your work for repeated phrases. It’s OK to use the same phrase a few times, but if it’s popping up every paragraph you need to re-assess your choice of words. I’ll hold my hands up and say that I used to be so bad for this and only realised I was doing it when one of my friends pointed it out. I was leaning on those phrases so often that they were actually getting in the way of the plot. Fixing it was difficult, but when I did my writing became a lot better.

 

  1. …but don’t pay it too much attention. 

Look. Thesauruses (thesauri?) are great and everything, but they do have a tendency to turn all your prose completely purple. By all means switch up your choice of words, but don’t choose anything that sounds daft.

 

  1. Get some outside feedback.

If you’ve got time, see if you can get someone else to have a quick look through your work. Even if it’s just your mate proofing your essay at the kitchen table, it really helps to have a second pair of eyes. I’ve got my family and friends to read bits I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and they pick up stuff I wouldn’t have even thought of. (Thanks, guys!)

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Ron learned NOTHING without her. (image: gfycat.com)

 

  1. Read it aloud.

Seriously, do it. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of putting stuff down because it looks good on paper, particularly when you’re writing essays. Don’t make the same mistakes I made, and always make sure it sounds like something a human could conceivably say out loud before you hand it in.

 

  1. See how it all flows together.

How are you progressing from one idea to the next? Are you following a chain of argument or a narrative thread when you’re moving between topics? This will really help it feel natural, as opposed to checking things off a list. I always find that reading it aloud helps here too. If new topics are introduced in a way that feels jarring when it’s spoken, that probably means I’m not doing something right.

 

  1. Be picky.

You don’t need to have a cast-iron reason to cut something if you want to get rid of it. It’s your work, and if you decide that it’s time to hack and slash at something you’ve written then chop chop.

original
Calm down. (image: weheartit.com)

It’s enough to decide you’ve gone off something – and if you keep the original version, you can always put it back in if you change your mind.

 

  1. Trust your instincts.

You know what you want to say, so write it down. These tips are just tips – they are by no means the be-all and end-all of editing. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. Equally, if something else on a different list works better, add it to your list of things to look for. Going over your own stuff can be an incredibly personal process, so you’ve got to do it in a way that works for you.

 

And that’s it! These are my extremely basic, starting-point tips for anyone looking for some advice on how to edit their own stuff. Hopefully they’re useful. The most important thing is to find a process that works for you. It may take some doing, and you may want to try a few different approaches, but it’ll help you find a way to make your writing really shine, no matter what it is you’re actually putting on paper.

Now get back to work.

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Book Recipes: How to Write a Time-Travel Romance

Time for another book recipe! Put on your corsets and make sure you’ve had all your jabs – we’re going BACK IN TIME. Sexily.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty heroine with a wildly detailed knowledge of history
  • One mega-hottie from THE PAST
  • A largely-irrelevant historical backdrop
  • One modern boyfriend, purely for angst
  • Buckets full of drama
  • A convenient historical event
  • A shakily-explained means of travelling backwards through time
  • Some sort of ticking clock plot device, which is utterly pointless because you have a time machine

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty heroine with an incredibly detailed knowledge of history in the present, living a normal life with her normal, modern boyfriend. Sure hope nothing happens to them.
  2. HAHA TIME TRAVEL!
  3. Oh no! For convoluted plot reasons your heroine is now stuck in the past! However will she return to her one true love?
  4. Introduce the historical mega-hottie as dramatically as possible.
  5. Your heroine must spend a bunch of time with this historical mega-hottie, for plot reasons. She hates it, and it’s not because she like, likes him or anything, oh my God, why do you have to make this so weird??
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I mean, why would you even say that? (image: giphy.com)
  1. Throw in some hilarious time-travel japes.
  2. Angst about the modern boyfriend for a bit. He’s probably frantically searching for the heroine right now, even though that’s not how time travel works and she can literally just bamf right back to the exact second she disappeared.
  3. Foreshadow the historical event!
  4. Your heroine and the historical hottie share a tender moment. Angst about it, then him, then the modern boyfriend, and then about the inevitability of history. It’s time for some serious brooding.
  5. Uh-oh! This historical event is not going to be good – and for reasons best left unexplained, you have to do a thing right before it happens!
  6. Distract yourself by staring at the historical hottie for a bit.
  7. More angst.
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No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The heroine and the historical hottie at last admit their tender, squishy feelings for each other. Then they make out, like, a bunch.
  2. Give up on getting back to the present. Your modern boyfriend is probably fine, and besides, in the present they definitely don’t make cheekbones like they used to.
  3. That historical event is coming closer! Time for aaaaaaangst.
  4. Finally tell your historical hottie that you’re from The Future. It’ll be a bit weird at first, but eventually he’ll decide he’s into it.
  5. Use some of your incredibly detailed historical knowledge to attempt to alter the course of history. That always ends well.
  6. You manage to do the thing right before the historical event! Phew. Guess that’s finally sorted out the –
  7. OH NO IT ALL BACKFIRED HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED
  8. Now that the history books have been proved right, the heroine must return to her own time. Say a tearful farewell to your historical hottie, then waltz off to the smallpox-free present.

THE END. Serve with a generous dollop of wistful staring.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure that you pick the right kind of historical backdrop. A little bit of grime is allowed, but it’s got to have some clean and pretty bits where the heroine can chill. Ideally you want to pick one that also comes with its own little outfit.
  • You can give your historical hottie an old-timey scar, but it must be the result of some brave and manly deed and not just smallpox.
  • No plagues. No-one likes a plague.
  • The heroine never tells people she’s from The Future unless it’s the hottie, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to influence what happens in the past. She just gives a bunch of really specific instructions and then gets very vague about why she’s doing it. It is the most subtle way.
  • Do not forget to describe your heroine’s outfits in rigorous detail.
  • Always make sure your heroine has an excuse to spend most of the plot in a rich dude’s house, so that the reader can see all the cool bits of the past. No-one wants to spend the whole novel in a mud hut.
  • Don’t forget to let your heroine spout off a bunch of pointless facts for no reason!
  • If you want to really ramp up the drama, have a random character accuse your heroine of witchcraft, and then your historical hottie can swoop in and save her. Everyone believed in witches in the past, obviously (no-one had invented telly, there was nothing else to do) so this is 100% bona fide historical fact.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Dr Julia Knight paced up and down her bedchamber, the long hem of her beaded yellow stola brushing the floor. She had to find a way out of here. The door was not locked, there were no guards outside, but that was not the problem.

She was trapped in the past.

She had no idea how it happened. One moment her fiancé, Blanden, was daring her to touch a mysterious glowing orb, and the next, she was wandering around the Forum. It made no sense. Luckily, she’d been taken in by Flavius Marcellus Barbarus, the wealthiest man in Rome, but still – nobody had any toothpaste here, and her three degrees in Romanology could only take her so far. She had to get back to her own time.

There was a knock at the door – a strapping, manly knock that made her heart flutter. And that, of course, was the other problem.

She patted her hair and tried not to sound too flustered. “Come in!”

Maximus strode into the room, eyes flashing, muscles rippling, still sweaty and breathless from his gladiator training, and Julia had to have a little sit down until she regained the ability to stand up. His legs looked great in his strappy sandals. Not for the first time, she wondered if making out with a super-hot gladiator would alter the course of history. Hopefully not, but she was prepared to risk it.

“Oracle,” he said, smouldering, “you have a client.”

“Oh. Yes, right!” Julia put on her most mysterious face. “Send him in.”

Maximus bowed, sexily, and Julia splashed her face with cold water. Moments later he reappeared with a man in a toga, who had a large nose and a receding hairline. Julia recognised him instantly, and tried not to freak out.

“Oracle,” he said, “I am –”

She held up a hand and tried to look spooky. “I know who you are, Gaius Julius Caesar.”

He frowned. “You do? How?”

Because I wrote my dissertation on you, Julia thought. Out loud, she said “Who in all of Rome does not know Caesar?”

Caesar looked pleased and pulled up a stool. “Exactly. Well, Oracle, I wish to consult you on –”

“Yeah,” said Julia, “I’m gonna stop you right there. Got some super important Oracle stuff to tell you. Have you got a pen?”

“What is this strange…pen you speak of?”

Julia blushed. “Stylus, I meant. Obviously. Something to take notes with.”

Caesar snapped his fingers. A slave sprang forward with a tablet and stylus and started to write.

“Right, so,” Julia began, “don’t go to the Senate on the Ides of March, don’t trust Cassius, Brutus, or the other Brutus who was also there –”

Caesar looked shocked. “But they’re all friends, Romans, countrymen…”

Julia laughed delightedly. “You said the thing!”

“I…what?”

“Never mind. So, yeah – Brutus one and two, and also Cassius – oh, and don’t accept the crown if you get offered it. Ever. You’ll thank me later.”

He blinked at her. “Why? I think I’d like a crown.”

Julia waved a dismissive hand. “More trouble than it’s worth. Also, it’ll give you a headache; those things are heavy. That’s it, Oracle stuff over.”

Caesar frowned while his slave scribbled down the last of her advice. “You seem to be very well-informed. Oracles are not usually so specific. Tell me – where have you learned such secrets?”

Julia caught Maximus’s eye. He smouldered at her.

“Oh, well, you know,” she said, waving Caesar out the door, “mystical Oracle stuff. The gods, obviously. And, like, significant dreams, goat entrails, reading bones and that. It’s all very technical. Ta-ta now.”

Caesar inclined his head. “I will think on your wisdom, Oracle.”

“Yes, yes. Off you go. Lovely to meet you, don’t get stabbed.”

“What?”

Julia shut the door and leaned against it, breathing hard. She’d just saved Julius Caesar’s life – and altered the course of history altogether. On retrospect, maybe that wasn’t her best idea.

When she opened her eyes, Maximus was staring at her. “Truly, you are wise, Oracle,” he murmured. “Do the gods have any advice for me?”

Julia hesitated. If she was going to be stuck in Rome, she may as well enjoy the view.

“Yes,” she said, in her most mystical voice. “They said you should take your shirt off.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)