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Self-Editing

by Lynn Hobbs

The technique I use on self-editing a novel is different when I self-edit a short story. Seems like it should be the same, right? For many it is. Whatever works best for you is what I recommend.

On a short story, I write the first draft, use spell check, and print the pages. I look for repetitive words, descriptions needing improvement, and unnecessary words.  I circle in red ink and return to the original Word Doc on the computer. Using the ‘find’ option, I type the word I am concerned about, such as ‘that’. Each one will be highlighted, and I remove as many as possible.  I continue deleting, make and save changes and print pages again. My word count isn’t important to me at this time.

I focus on each scene beginning with action and reaction. Is it something you can relate to? Is the dialogue written to display a comfortable speaking manner? Identify the goal, conflict, and disaster. Surprise your readers. Think of the worse scenario, have your character experience it, and let your reader guess the outcome. Character reaction should be shown not told. In-depth characters show emotion by their actions, or body language. Dilemma, and decisions could have options, depending on your total word count. If limited on total word count, remove the options and be precise. I am critical on sentence structure, preferring to tighten sentences. Can the same idea be conveyed using fewer words? Try to delete as many words ending in ‘ly’.

Changes are made again.  Pages are printed and left alone for a few days. I return to the story and spot areas needing improvement, making additional changes. Did I make my point in the story without rambling? Did the story flow? Will it keep the readers interest?

After those elements are addressed, I work on my word count by either deleting scenes or adding to increase the total count. Pages are printed again. I read out loud each word in the story to prove all are correct and all are there. Punctuation follows as each sentence is examined for mistakes. If I’m happy with it, then my short story is now complete.

On novel writing, I may write several chapters at one time before examining any of it. At this point, I am including ideas that are fresh on my mind. I enjoy having an entire chapter from one person’s point of view, and start the next with another character to show their personal situations, possible motives, and emotions. I write by the “seat of my pants” and do not plot. My story grows along with my characters. I start self-editing my novel when I have at least five chapters complete. I refrain from introducing too many characters at the beginning of the story. I don’t want my readers to lose interest trying to figure out which characters belong together. Nothing is worse than turning pages back and rereading the names of each one, and what their purpose is in the story.

When I am satisfied with my character development, and show a continuation of several chapters going from two points of view, then I self-edit by using the same steps I make in self-editing my short stories. This is the routine I use. You may find it makes a handy check list, or some parts may not work for you. Take what is helpful, and don’t be leery of developing your own method. Happy writing!

Lynn HobbsLynn Hobbs is the author of the Running Forward Series: Sin, Secrets, and Salvation, River Town, and Hidden Creek, and won 1st place Religious Fiction in 2013, 2014 and 2015 by Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of Lillie, A Motherless Child, which won 1st place Biography 2016, TAA, and the American Neighborhood Series: Eyes of a Neighbor. Visit Lynn on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

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One Response to Self-Editing

  1. “I read out loud each word in the story to prove all are correct and all are there.”

    This is such an important and very often overlooked step.