Friday, January 10, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 4

Whoa! Someone's on a blogging roll now!

Part 1 of this series of entries on how to do a great job of editing your manuscript to ready it for publication (self-pub or traditional publishing, makes no matter to me), discussed looking up things you don't know, or verifying information.

Part 2 was all about looking like a crazy person (hey, if you're a writer, you already hear voices in your head...) and reading your work out loud to yourself to catch errors, especially in dialogue.

Part 3 went over having someone who really knows what they're doing look your manuscript over.

And part 4 is about...

4)  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Um, okay, but what the heck does that even mean?

One way to interpret that is to write consistently (a bit every day) and edit consistently as well.  And that's awesome advice, but that's not how I mean it.

Because this series is about editing, I'm begging you to use versions of words consistently.

For example, have you ever written "pony tail" to describe a woman's hairstyle?  Or maybe you wrote it as "ponytail" instead?  How about "no one" or "no-one"?  Do you write "OK" or "okay"?  Or maybe "Goddamn" or "goddam" or "God damn" or any of the other countless variations?  And did you write these words multiple times in your manuscript?  Probably yes, right?  Do you see my point?

Most of the time it doesn't matter how you write them (though some of these definitely have spellings that are more accepted than others) but you need to write these words the same each time you use them.  They can be tough to catch, and are often caught in the later stages of editing when your manuscript is (mostly) done, but it's worth paying attention to.

When I'm editing a manuscript, be it my own or someone else's, and I come across one of these, I'll do a global search for them.  I can hear you asking how you do that.  It's pretty simple.  In your Word doc, click "find" in the upper right of your "home" screen (or try "CTRL F") and type in the word you want to find. You'll be able to tab through each instance of the word.  Then do a search for the other variations of the word.  Didn't find any?  Good.  You've been writing it consistently.  Found some?  That's okay!  Just pick which one you want to use (or whichever one is "accepted" or "correct") and change them all to that one.

What it's like when you find the one time you spelled something differently, but less cute.

Why is this important?  After all, it reads the same whether you write "ponytail" or "pony tail", right?  Because it's about the integrity of your manuscript.  You want it to be all clean and matching and, whether you notice it or not, if you're not consistent in your wording, it'll come across like you didn't care about how polished your manuscript was.  Like you didn't bother to read it over before you sent it in.  And that can matter when you're querying agents or publishers or, if you're self-pubbing, it can matter if you want readers to return to your online outlets and buy and read more of your work.  I don't like to return to stores that look like they don't care (unless I absolutely have no choice), so why would I return to an author who doesn't either?

What your manuscript will bring to mind if it's not cleaned up.

I've done it too.  When I was starting Fate's Awakening, I didn't really pay attention and I ended up writing both "soul mate" and "soulmate".  Microsoft Word didn't seem to care either way, but I did, and I changed them all to the two word version for consistency's sake.

Don't like the idea of having to comb through your manuscript for these words?  When you're starting a new story, make note of which version of the word you're using, and reference that when you go to write it.

What are your thoughts on consistency in your wording?  Do you have a particular method of catching these "oopses"?  Tell me your strategy!

xoxo Sarah

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