I’ve been reading quite a lot of self-published work lately. Some great, others not so great, and what I’ve realized is most problems that arise in self-published writing comes down to the editing. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, page layout, and fixing minor style problems are all things that slow your story down and get in the way of what could be a great novel.
Now I’m not an editor by any means, but here are some things I’ve learned in my own work and in reading others that will improve your writing.
- Watch out for the same word showing up multiple times in back to back sentences. “She went up the stairs, and woke her sister up. “You’re late, it’s time to get up.”” It’s repetitive.
- U.S. writers have different spellings and word usages than other English speaking countries, which is fine, but make sure you’re being consistent. No “towards” in one sentence then “toward” in the following paragraph, or no criticizing one minute and then criticising the next. If you’re going to call “pants” “trousers” and “underwear” “pants”, stick with it through the whole book.
- When a new character starts speaking, start a new line. It’s very confusing looking at a wall of text and slows down the reader when they have to figure out who’s saying what.
- “And then she went up and walked down stairs. Then she smiled at her mother. Then she….” You get it right? “And then” can ruin a good book. Not only because it’s repetitive. It makes the story bland.
- Cut out flabby words in general. Better writers than me have written articles on this, check them out here and here. It might not always apply, but there are a lot of excess words that make a great book fall from readers’ graces.
- Say your dialogue out loud to see how realistic it sounds. A modern thirteen year old saying things like “Where do you purpose I venture from here?” sounds strange, if it’s not in the context of the story.
- When you make point of view changes, give a heads up by either changing the chapter, or separating it somehow from the rest of the work. Jumping into one character’s head and then another can be jarring for the audience.
- Keep your characters consistent. If your character doesn’t know something, they can’t suddenly have all the answers just because they read one paragraph of a news article. Or my favorite character inconsistency, “I’m a virgin who doesn’t even know how sex works”, but two pages later, “OMG that cutie has me thinking up dirtier things than Fifty Shades of Grey mixed with German torture porn.” It cracks me up every time.
- Keep the tone and style consistent. A book that starts out like Shakespeare, but ends like Stephenie Meyer after the fifth chapter, then turns into Hemmingway by the tenth gets confusing. All authors have their merits, but if you’re trying to copy a style, make sure you keep it steady. Again, this is only if it doesn’t make sense in the narrative. I’m sure there’s someone who’s pulled off changing styles, when it was in the context of the story.
- Conveniences are my least favorite thing in ANY book, self published or otherwise. This is the “The door was locked, but luckily he knew how to pick it using nothing but a spoon. But when he opened the door there was someone with a gun. Lucky for him, he knew how to use kung fu! They pushed him out a window, but luckily, he had super powers and whole time and could fly!” No one, not even a leprechaun holding a horseshoe made of rabbit feet, while also wearing a suit of four leaf clovers is this lucky! If you notice your character somehow getting out of every single situation from unexplained help, it might be time to make some edits.
Agree with my list? How do you go about editing your novel? What advice can you give to people who are new to editing their work?