Prose Basics Week is winding down now and hopefully you've learned a lot from the brilliant past articles. But, there's more to writing than just getting that first draft done, isn't there? That's where the next big crucial step comes in: revision.
The Art of Revising:
Types of Editing:
- Proofreading (AKA: Beta Reading)
For the most part, proofreading is the cleaning up of grammar/spelling errors (and sometimes sentence flow) to make the story readable for others. Often times, the typical "beta reader" will be asked to do edits like these (of course, there are other betas that may go beyond this, but typically, this is what a proofreader/beta reader does). The purpose of proofreading, as mentioned, is simply to make the story presentable and understandable to the readers. It normally does not cover errors with scenes, plot, etc.
(Take note: In publishing, a proofreader is the last person to receive the manuscript in its final form to check over for any errors, hence the term "proof" reader.)
- Substantive Editing
Just as its term says, this is editing the "substance". This type of revision focuses on the overall plot of the story and tries to find inconsistencies in voice (narrative and character), plot holes, scenes, etc. This is really the big rewriting part of editing, since it tackles the bigger problems with the story. If you're lucky, sometimes a beta reader may point these sorts of things out to you if they notice them, but you may have to be specific. Typically, this is the type of revision that most writers fear, but it is one of the most important.
- Copy Editing (AKA: Alpha Reading)
This type of editing focuses heavily on catching grammar/spelling/punctuation mistakes and cleaning syntax, as well as the final product. Sometimes, copy editing can be confused with proofreading, but they're not the same. Yes, copy editors do last minute read overs for catching grammar and spelling errors and making sure syntax is smooth, but they are mainly working to get your piece ready to present. They give tips on titles and chapter names, etc. as well. Some people on the internet have coined this as "alpha reading", since there is more focus on the small details of grammar/punctuation.
(Take note: In publishing, a copy editor does what a "beta reader" essentially does. They work on a "copy" of the manuscript.)
In writing communities on the internet, "proofreading" and "copy editing" are often swapped with their terms. The examples I gave above are what most outside of publishing would most likely assume if they heard "proofread", etc. Please be aware that in actual publishing, however, their roles are reversed (as in the "Take note" sections added).
For many writers, this is probably one of the more stressful areas of the "writing" process. The reason? Many don't know when exactly to stop editing and ask themselves if it truly is done. Some writers worry about over editing and taking away too much or things that really don't need to be touched. Or, in general, one of the bigger fears I've heard from many writers when it comes to the revision stage is simply: how?
- Reading Aloud
I cover this topic much more heavily in my article here, but as a quick summary, reading aloud can be, sometimes, the most helpful way of editing by yourself. The ear is a much better critic than the eye and it's easier to pick up mistakes that you may have missed a few times skimming on the page. It's usually best with catching syntax errors, and seeing if dialogue feels and sounds natural.
- Record Yourself
Going hand-in-hand with reading aloud, recording yourself read is another great way to be able to find errors in your work. Since you're not focusing on what you're reading and just listening, you have a better chance at picking up more of those syntax errors you may have missed otherwise. A tip would be to record yourself the first time you read aloud, and then play it back and see what other mistakes you can find.
- Printed vs. On Screen
Believe it or not, sometimes you just need a change of scenery to help you edit. If you've been using the computer screen to do the majority of your edits over and over again, try printing out a copy and see what mistakes you may find. Looking at your work in a different way can actually trick your mind into thinking you haven't seen it that way before, and this is a new piece of work.
- Stash it Away
You've probably heard this before (Stephen King makes note of it in his On Writing) and while it may not work for some, it's definitely a method to try out. After you've written something, put it away for a little while. Take a break. Don't look at it for a week or more. Sometimes, you need that little refresher to get your mind ready to edit. Jumping right back into a story to start editing right after you finish the first draft probably isn't your best bet. But if you wait, it's like looking at the story with fresh eyes. And, perhaps, you have had time to distance yourself from it.
Although many fear it, getting peer revision is the best way to go when it comes to getting edits-- especially for those that involve plot. Your reader isn't as invested in the story as you are, and they are more able to give an unbiased opinion when it comes to finding things that don't sound right or don't add up. They will be your saviors when it comes to getting things thoroughly polished.
- Reading Aloud (Again!)
Getting someone else to read your work aloud is another great way to catch mistakes. Not only are you not focused on reading it yourself, but the pacing of the story may be read differently by someone else. This allows you to find errors that you may have not picked up alone. Plus, you'll have someone else there reading to see if they find anything in syntax that doesn't sound right.
- Who To Ask
Generally, it's best to get advice from all around if you can. However, the unbiased reader (one who really has no investment or attachment to your story) is the one that's going to give the better answers when it comes to plot holes and the like. Finding someone with a general knowledge of grammar and punctuation is also a plus, since they will be more accurate in finding and fixing these errors for you. Now, you don't have to go out and hire a professional to edit for you, although if you're seeking self-publishing, it may be advised just to make sure everything is in top shape. Finding those around you who may have time to invest in helping and getting a second opinion is fine enough-- though it's always best to find at least someone who has a knowledge on good writing skills to give some more detailed critique.
- Where to Look
Luckily for you, being a member of deviantART already makes you a member of a community-- and there are lots of writers here looking for feedback. A good way to seek critique would be to do critique trades with others looking for feedback. That way, not only are you helping them get their work polished while you are getting yours done, you're also improving your editing skills. The Literature Forum's Monthly Critique Thread is a good place to go and put a link to work you're seeking advice on. Beta-Readers is also a great group to check out and get partnered up with a critique buddy.
The big thing to remember with peer revision is that your critique partner is out to help you improve. Critique is necessary for growth as a writer. Even if something is not what you necessarily wanted to hear and it hurts to hear (ie: this doesn't make sense, I can't connect with your characters, your writing is too telling, etc.) don't get mad at those who help you. Take it with a grain of salt and learn from it!
Drafts, Drafts, Drafts (And Killing Those Darlings)
Now that you're finally done with getting all your feedback and working on those revisions by yourself, it's time to get some drafts done. The biggest thing to remember as a writer here is that there is never just ONE draft. Writing takes many drafts, many re-writes, and many edits. Some writers I've talked to have re-written their novel 10 times before getting it right and ready to query. The bottom line is, no first draft is ever perfect.
Take your feedback and see what you can do! This is where those plot specific edits are going to come in handy and help you rewrite, move things around, delete scenes, etc. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process since it's when you essentially are "killing your darlings", but this is the most important step of it all. This is when you're getting your work to its full potential and ready to read and be awesome! So, grab a box of tissues and get ready to red pen and cut out scenes and rearrange and essentially start from scratch. But, remember, it will be worth it in the end.
Questions and Conclusion:
Now that you're a happy writer, getting all your edits done and feeling your story really come to life to its full potential with your lovely peer reviewers cheering you on, you realize that all is worth it. All that hard work of writing your book, struggling to do edits yourself, getting some critique from others that left you near tears (but you're a strong writer, so you pulled through!), and sobbing through the draft stage, your work is ready to go. And aren't you proud! Revision is just as important as writing itself, since it's getting your work to be the best it can be-- and isn't that the most rewarding part of the process?
Before you leave, a few questions for the readers:
- Have you ever read your work aloud? If so, what was your experience?
- Do you prefer revising yourself or having someone else revise for you?
- Do you have any critique partners that you actively exchange stories with to review?
- How many drafts do you typically write before you consider your story "done"?