During this stage I read through the MS from beginning to end, often aloud. Reading aloud lets me become a reader again and helps me avoid reading what I expect to be there, rather than what’s actually there. This includes things like missing commas—or extra commas. I look for all types of errors when I’m reading this stage. Some basic errors I’ve found myself make over and over again:
- Every sentence must begin with a capital letter and end with a fullstop. This seems basic but sometimes I miss the fullstop, then two sentences get joined together and it doesn’t make sense. Relying on Word to insert the capital letter at the beginning doesn’t always work, especially with dialogue. It needs to be checked.
- Homonyms. In my rush to get the words down, I sometimes write the right word but the wrong spelling (which gives me a completely different word). An example: pair, pear. Both words are spelled correctly so Word won’t pick them up, but only one of the words is the correct meaning. Only careful reading will identify them.
- Repetitions. I’ll often say the same thing in two or three different ways. I think it comes from my background as a teacher where I often repeat instructions in different ways to ensure students understand. It doesn’t work in a story. I have to choose the best option and rewrite or edit the words around it for it all to hang together properly.
- Paragraph breaks. Sometimes I get into the habit of breaking a paragraph when it begins to look too big. Often that works, but sometimes it’s better to begin a new paragraph after a single word, for impact, or to let ‘pretty prose’ stand together in a longer paragraph.
- Repeated words. On any particular day, my mind will somehow decide that one word sounds pretty special and I’ll use that word two or three times in one paragraph or page. One word that often happens with is ‘intense’. I have a list of words I’ve recognised I use a lot (there are a lot of lists other authors have kindly posted online), that I do a basic search for. If they show up too often in a space, I rewrite/edit to make it less repetitive.
- Passive voice. There are certain words that show very clearly that passive voice is being used, eg was, could. I do another search for them and check that the writing in that section is best as passive. If not, I change it so it’s more active.
Sometimes, during the proofreading stage, I’ll notice things in structure or characterisation that don’t feel right for the story. I put a note next to them and go back and check them later. If I allow myself to get distracted from the process, I miss important things.
That’s the four stages of editing I do with my work. Once I’ve done that, the work is ready for critique partners and beta readers. Often my critique partners have seen the story as it’s been developed. I only show them the finished product if I’ve made extensive changes to the structure and/or characterisations. That happened with Warrior Pledge where one plot line was removed completely, and the characters that were the major characters in the first version became secondary characters. That meant point of view changed throughout, scenes were deleted and new scenes were written. It became a completely new (and much better) story.
After this week, the completed edited version of The Gingerbread House will be posted to the Free Stories page on my website. The older versions will be removed from that page, but will still be available in the blog archives.