A good breezeful of comments came in on the “three editing types” post,
so on request, here are some off-beat yet effective ways to edit your piece for content, sound, and cadence.
1. First, I’m not going to mention reading your words aloud. And I won’t utter a word about using another person to read your work to you. Far be it from me to mention the power of hearing your words’ layout and cadence, through speech.
(Inside paralipsis joke for English maniacs.)
2. Read “Back to Front” First. For a paragraph or a short piece, read the text backward. Word for word. Then read it forward (normally). There’s something about reading backward first that makes the eyes and brain see the words differently — catching flat-out errors and exposing uncomfortable word/sentence choices. I know — it sounds bizarre when you do it, but reading backwards first works. (Say that ten times.)
3. Use the “Read to Me” Function on your computer. Sure, the cadence won’t be perfect. But errors do pop out with ease — even within the robo-voice imperfection. (If you don’t know how to make read-to-me-robo-voice work, get the how-to instructions here.) Personally, I like Mr. Australian voice. (Let’s leave it at that.)
4. For Deeper Editing, Read to Answer these Three Questions:
QUESTION 1: What’s the point?
For a nonfiction chapter, that’s does my reader walk away with one idea that moves him or her to action? Nonfiction is all about motivating the reader to feel, think, or act. Know the response you’re trying to elicit, and you’ll be able to focus your words to get your target response.
For nonfiction, on the margin of the every page, write the main point (main idea/action). If you can’t come up with a clear point, then you need to edit more, for focus.
For a fiction chapter, that’s does the reader walk away with 1) a feeling and 2) a plot question? Fiction is all about relationships — and the plot points that move those relationships forward. In order to capture the reader, in each chapter, we need to know the emotional/relational response that we’re trying to elicit from the reader. Then we need to know what actions (the plot) bring out the emotions the best. It’s like riding on the back of an alligator. The alligator’s the plot point. The “Whheeeeeeee!” is the emotion. (Fun picture, eh?)
For fiction, on the margin of every page, write the relationship feeling you’re trying to elicit and the plot point that you’re moving within. If you can’t come up with either, edit for emotional focus.
QUESTION 2: Is it linear?
In other words, does my writing hold the reader’s hand from one thought to the next? No skips. No bumps. Nothing left out.
There’s an easy way to find lapses in the linear construction: You hold one copy of your page, pen in hand. Your friend then holds the exact same page and begins reading your work to you. Every single time your friend pauses, hesitates, stops, restarts, squints his eyes, cocks his head, makes a face, does a double take, or even takes a breath and licks his lips, mark the page. Exactly where the hiccup happened, mark it.
There’s a reason for every hiccup. Something is wrong. Something needs to be changed. (Oh. And the deep breath/lip licking is usually a mark of a run on sentence or too many ideas/too much info at once.)
QUESTION 3: Is the sensory detail balanced?
Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — Do I have all of the senses on the page? Even nonfiction needs sensory writing.
To check your sensory writing (to see if there’s too little or too much sensory description), print just one page. Then circle every sensory word. Note what kind of word it is (which sense is being used). Check to see if you use one sense over the others…or if you’re completely missing a sense…or if your use of the senses is so overkill, you’re drowning the reader in mushwords, slogging the reader into boredom (“Get on with the story!”).
Well, speaking of slogging… that’s enough to sip on.
(Insert long drink of coffee here.)
Don’t leave the job of editing to others. The more deeply you edit, the better your work — and the more readers will stick around.
(Go forth and edit.)