On Editing

A while back, I posted a call to all writers who wanted to share their editing tips, and the first to take me up on my offer was my good friend and blogging brother, Craig, known to many as C.S. Boyack.  If you don’t already follow Craig’s blog, you’re missing a real treat.  And if you haven’t read any of his books yet, you don’t know what you’re missing.  (And I’m not just saying that because I got to design the cover to his most recent outstanding publication, Will O’ the Wisp.)  So without further ado, here’s Craig:

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Rachel invited me over today to post about editing. (Like I know anything about it!) I’m fumbling along, learning as I go.

I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I’m willing to share these bits. I do my own editing for financial reasons. I know many of you will think I’m insane, but it boils down to simple arithmetic. Write a book, slap a $200 cover on it – sell 40 copies at $2.00 each.

I’d love nothing more than an editor, but rely upon my critique group and beta readers. It’s also forced me to learn some things. So here we go:

Pick names with a purpose. If you name a character Theophylaktos, like I did, you have to spell it correctly throughout the entire novel. You can bet he became Theo to his friends within about two paragraphs.

Google all your character names. Make sure your cool character named Sam Spade hasn’t been used in something more famous than you’ll ever be.

Use the word search function on your word processor. Search all of your character names and make sure you have them spelled right. An advance reader of mine once pointed out that Detective Groves became Detective Graves about halfway through the story.

I keep a living document for edits. My list of word searches includes standards like; its & it’s, there, their, & they’re. I write speculative fiction and include rein, reign, & rain in the list.

I also search for filtering words like:

  • See
  • Touch
  • Watch
  • Feel
  • Hear
  • Wonder
  • Seem
  • Think
  • Realize
  • Decide

These words tend to increase the distance between the reader and the character. I’m giving stage directions that aren’t necessary. Remember to catch them in other tenses too, e.g. watched, thought.

I try to eliminate all the weak verbs. These are usually two word verbs that could be better: had walked = walked, did say = said. Remember they can hide in contractions too: she’d eaten, he’d yelled.

I kill all my personal sin words too. I keep a list of them: just, very, that, and though. Your sin words may be different, make a list and search them out.

‘Was’ is also on my hit list. It moves things along, but it kills reader buy in. “Mary was pretty” is nice but it doesn’t give the reader the same feeling as, “Mary’s raven locks stood in sharp contrast to her alabaster skin.”

The other trick is to add the words ‘by zombies’ to the end of a sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, it is passive writing. For example, “The potato soup was made that morning”… By zombies. How about, “Dave made the potato soup before unlocking the restaurant.”

I’m sure there are hundreds of things I don’t know. This is supposed to be an ongoing series, and I’ll let others weigh in. I have more, but I’ll only offer one:

Change your pitch, font, and color before rereading your book. 12 point Courier, in black, is probably how your wrote it in the first place. Try something else and it will make mistakes stand out a tiny bit.

I’d like to thank Rachel for inviting me over today. (I’d like to, but editing – seriously?) Editing is one of the least fun parts of the writing process for me. It’s important, no doubt, and I applaud Rachel for creating a repository for this kind of information. Now somebody else take her up on this so I can up my game.

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Thank you, Craig, for such awesome insights!  (By the way, who here didn’t love the brilliant “by zombies” tip?)  Now, who’s up next?  If you’re game, please contact me at: