Self Editing- Polish up your manuscript.

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook no doubt you will have seen my posts about finishing my first novel. For me it’s been a real learning process,  where I’ve attempted to polish my skills and hone my craft. The part that I was dreading after completing my manuscript was the editing process, but it’s the essential element that makes a novel shine. 

Unless you pay someone to edit for you, some form of self editing will have to be carried out. This blog summarises my learnings as I’ve worked my way through it. Any other tips you can also provide in the comments section below will be most welcome.

The writing process is just that- a process- and editing is an important step. It’s where you can correct those simple mistakes that will lead a publishing house to accept or deny your story. There are many things that you need to do to make your story better from commas to semi-colons. Capitalization, spelling and grammar. Small things that can make a huge difference. Today I’m going to highlight a few key ones.

1) Spell Check is NOT your friend

Spellcheck and auto correct are a part of every day life, we use it in emails,  text messages, on social media applications. But it is also a massive hindrance to having a functioning document. Spell check is actually often incorrect and does miss some very common errors. Depending on your settings it may not even be checking the words in your document. Nothing beats an old fashioned dictionary or thesaurus if you are unsure about a word. With the advent of auto-correct, I’m a culprit of placing more and more silly wordings in documents. Turn off the auto-correct function. It will only lead to more silly mistakes then it corrects.

2) Reformat Your Manuscript

Now before you change the font and spacing let me explain. One of the best things you can do is to change the format of your manuscript when you do a read through. This way your eyes will see mistakes more easily. This can be by going through a hard copy with a red pen, or uploading it to Kindle to read through the story. Being able to ‘see it like a reader’ allows for you to notice any spacing issues as well. A firm favourite is reading your story aloud as it allows you to notice where a particular sentence doesn’t flow. Often line editors will read the manuscript back from the end word for word to catch mistakes. Which ever way you choose make sure to read through your manuscript with a keen eye to help find those mistakes.

3) Preferred Words

We all have a group of words we seem to pull out of our repository and insert into our manuscript. It may be a favourite phrase or saying. Just think back to the person who kept saying “like” during their presentation. Remember how annoying it was? When we write, often it is a form of our own spoken language. Because of this, we tend to use words that we are comfortable with. These words can be used over and over again, making the story line appear farcical. Using the find function on Microsoft Word will tell you quickly how many “like” were in your document as well as highlighting each one. Try a wordle at http://www.wordle.net it wil show you which words you prefer in the medium of a lovely word cloud. Here’s a few of mine for my up and coming novels Sunder and The Corporation.

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4) Characterization Errors

When your story started, your hero’s name was Mark with an “K” but somewhere during the story line, the name changed to Marc with a “C”. The antagonist at the beginning of the story had a hook instead of his left hand, but later on he is grappling with both hand. These are content or continuity errors.  Rarely do we get the opportunity to write a story from start to end, so any delay puts the author in a different mindset. That’s why it is important to put these characterization pieces down in writing before you begin your story. My good friend @thechimpingdandy believes in a World building bible,  a master log of all plot lines and characterizations. This is something I whole heartedly agree with as it helps you keep things straight in your head.But let’s say for example you’ve already written your story, how do you correct it or look for this? That’s simple, you can always create a characterization at any time. Write down the character’s gender, eye color, hair color and length, and as many details as you can about them from your read through. This will allow you to have a list. Then you can always refer back to your list as you read to see if there are any inconsistencies.

These small tips are a result of my own experiences as well as some amazing advice from Award Winning romance novellist Nell Dixon. Every time I come across a mistake it is logged in an editing notebook so that I can improve.  Mistakes are fine but will always catch up to you in editing!

About the author.
Neil Sehmbhy is a self confessed geek and the author of the upcoming Sunder, Corporation novels. Follow him on twitter @neilsehmbhy.

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