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How Do You Edit Your Manuscripts?

We all get excited when we complete our first draft. The occasion warrants excitement and calls for celebration; your story is done. Unfortunately, this is when the real work of editing begins. I call it the real work because, at least in my experience, editing isn’t nearly as fun as writing. In this post, I will walk you through my method of editing the first draft before submitting it to the professionals for their review.

Before I start cleaning up my manuscript, I do celebrate the completion of the first draft. Normally, I give myself about a one-week break. Sometimes, I will take my family on vacation or just enjoy quality time at home. After the break, I am re-energized and ready to get to work.

You will find no better editor for your work than yourself because no one understands the story as well as you do.

Step-by-step, this is the process that I use to edit my manuscripts:

1. Automated grammar checker.

I like to use Grammarly, but there are many other free and paid alternatives out there. Chapter by chapter and scene by scene, I work my way through the automated grammar check evaluating the suggestions and, where applicable, making changes. I say “where applicable” because the software doesn’t always get it right, especially when your characters are using slang or colloquialisms.

If you scrutinize each individual suggestion, an automated grammar checker will help you resolve most of your spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure issues. The better ones will even help identify issues with voice, flow, and emotional impact.

2. Character consistency check.

Once I have checked my grammar, I look for consistency in my characters. One of the things I really like about writing in Scrivener is that it allows me (outside of the manuscript but still within the project) to create detailed character profiles. Starting with my protagonist, I will review the character profile and then run a global search for every sentence where I have used his or her name. This gives me the opportunity to focus on the single character throughout my novel. What I am looking for in this phase of editing is consistency in voice, personality, and description. One by one, I repeat the process for each of my characters.

I talked about consistency in a separate post. The important thing to remember is that your characters shouldn’t change unless you have provided a plausible reason for the change. A character-by-character walk-through helps me to address any inconsistencies. It is not 100% effective because our characters are not always mentioned by name, but it serves as a good start.

3. Settings consistency check.

In the same way that I run character checks, I run checks for consistency in each of my settings. Scrivener offers the same functionality for creating setting sketches as it does for character profiles. I review the sketch I have written for a setting and then search for all instances to confirm consistency. One by one, I make my way through them all.

It’s important to note that the setting is more than just a place or a building. Time of year, weather conditions, landscape, and many other factors play into settings. This phase of editing helps me to adjust any inconsistencies. Even time of day can play a role. For example, if in one paragraph I am talking about their conversation over breakfast and the next paragraph depicts them going to sleep for the night, then I’ve made a blunder. Likewise, if they are in California in August, I shouldn’t see any mention of snow or frigid air.

4. Cover-to-cover review.

Now that I feel fairly confident that I have addressed the majority of the grammatical and consistency errors, I am ready for the full review. Starting with Chapter One, Scene One, I read through the entire manuscript correcting any errors as I come across them. When I get to dialogue, I like to read it aloud in order to see if it sounds natural or contrived.

What I am looking for in this phase of editing is readability, flow, plot development, paragraph structuring, and any errors I may have missed in my previous edits. By far, this is the most time-consuming phase of my editing.

5. Chapter and scene check.

In my final phase of editing, I go back through and check my chapter and scene headings to make sure they are all accurately titled and identify any areas for improvement. For example, with the headings, it would be pretty embarrassing to submit it to professionals if I have titled two chapters as “37.” To give you an idea of what I am talking about with areas of improvement, I might decide that Scene 5 from Chapter 2 works better as Scene 1 from Chapter 3.

Will there still be errors after all of this work?

Yes. I’m not a professional editor, so a handful of things will get by me. Hopefully, I will have addressed the lion’s share of issues, but at least I can walk away feeling that I have done my due diligence. The rest, I leave to the professionals.

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