Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Self-Editing 101

First off -- I'm so glad that our Oasis has returned.  We hope you enjoy the new line-up and our new contributor, Larissa Hardesty.

**Image snatched from Monbcn on DeviantArt**

For our first writer's Wednesday, I wanted to start with three basic self-editing tips that I see with some frequency.  I'm reading a self-published novel right now that has an absolutely AWESOME story line, but the editing issues are rampant.  I also see these mistakes cropping up in the First Pages group at #yalitchat.  Whether you're subbing to an agent or editor -- or going it on your own -- being able to self-edit is a critical skill.

Some common mistakes I'm seeing (and these are pretty basic, btw):

1.  Punctuation around dialog.  This is correct: "I like dogs," said Abbie.
     This is not correct: "I like dogs." said Abbie.

     This is correct: "I like dogs." Abbie grinned.
     This is not correct: "I like dogs," Abbie grinned.

     Can you see the difference between the two?  In the first example, what follows is a dialog tag.  The most common examples are said and asked.  If you're adding it before or after dialog, the correct pronunciation to use is a comma.  In the second example, what follows the dialog is a second sentence describing Abbie's movement.  This is classic showing.  Instead of telling your reader who is speaking, you're able to show by adding in a descriptive motion just before or after the dialog.  Since this is not a dialog tag (and it's not, because grinning is not a way in which to speak), the correct pronunciation is a period.
2.  Using Contractions in Dialog.  I actually stopped reading a self-pubbed novel with a good story line because all of the teen characters spoke in long, complete sentences.  The author never used contractions.  Now, I'm guilty of this myself in first drafts.  We've been taught for so long not to use contractions in our writing, it tends to come out that way even if we're thinking in contractions in our head.

Fix this when you're editing.

Read the dialog out loud.  Have beta readers who will actually give you honest feedback read it.  Do something.  Because I don't know any teens who would say something like: "I am going to college this fall. It is going to be great."  Instead, it'd be something more like: "I'm going to college this fall. It'll be great."  Same message, totally different delivery.

3.  Spelling.  Now, before my beta readers start throwing stones at me, I confess that this is one of my own fatal flaws. I'm a horrid speller and my word processing program, Pages, actually gave up on me and won't find the errors for me anymore.  (Yes, it's that bad.)  But a friend recently sent me a list of free spell checking sites that can scan your document for spelling errors.  So, I'm sharing.  Free is good.  Spelled correctly is better. <-- not a spell-checker, but answers all of the common grammar questions.  Really cool place!
publish button

Though the sites listed above are free there is also software that you can purchase. Whitesmoke is great software that is compatible to Microsoft word 2007 and 2010. It is most certainly affordable:

So, those are my basic editing tips for the day.  Anyone want to add to the list of basics?  Or have feedback on the freebie spell-checkers?


  1. Thank you so much for these reminders. I still have trouble with my YA characters using contractions. I don't usually talk that way, so I sometimes forget that I probably used to when I was younger. Also, playing around with each character's voice can be a lot of fun.

    Thank you, again, Jessie.

    Robin Quinn

  2. The Ellipsis vs. The Em Dash rules. I learned this one myself just today as a result of my online writing group.

    "Green eggs and ham. Sam I ... how did that go?" (ellipsis for trailing off, pondering or pause)

    "What the--" (em dash for interruption)

  3. oh, Tiny, that's a good tip! Thanks for sharing it.


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