Tuesday, February 5, 2013

An Appointment with The Phrase Doctor

Hi again, and welcome to another Appointment With the Phrase Doctor. I get asked all the time if I believe an author can self-edit. The answer is yes and no. (Sorry, it's not entirely clear.) Confused? Here's the lowdown. 

First and foremost, editing isn't a one-time or two-time shot. If that's what editing is to an author, they can't edit their own work. In fact, if that's what editing is to your editor, they aren't much of an editor either. The beauty that comes from editing is unveiled in layers. It's a very rare piece of prose that is at its best after only two layers of work. 

Let's assume the writer knows editing takes time. Good. Now I want you to think of editing as those Russian nesting dolls. Each one opens up to find a smaller and smaller doll until the last doll left is tiny. This is what happens in editing. 

The first part you tackle in editing is the story itself. Does the plot work? Are there any plot holes? Are there any parts that leave the reader scratching his or her head? This includes factual errors. Next, look at the characters. Do they ring true? Are they consistent throughout concerning speech patterns and behavior, and when they do change because they grow in the story, is it believable and plausible? (Keep in mind that a lack of growth for a protagonist means you have no real story.)

After the story makes it through that round (and it may take more than once), next up is grammar. Never fool yourself. Readers who couldn't pick out a comma splice from a dangling participle will always be able to find the grammar problems in your story. The English language is like that. They won't be able to tell you what the name of the problem is, but just by reading it, they'll know it sounds wrong. Unless you're truly someone who knows grammar as well as a professional editor, leave this up to the professionals. To not puts your entire story at risk because it may be tighter than a drum structurally, but grammar problems will ruin it in the reader's eyes. 

Next up is style. This part involves flow (what I posted about last week here). In this level of editing, you're looking for misused words, overused words, overused sentence structure (usually simple), and anything that may jar the reader from the story. This is the hardest part for even an author who can do structure and grammar edits because this type of edit can often cut the most out. It's hard to let go of those words once they're on the page. 

Finally is the line edit. I call this the last edit or proofreading because by this time everything but those silly mistakes has hopefully been caught. Sometimes the errors are misspellings, while other times it's a matter of a word being typed twice by mistake. 

So can a writer self-edit? Yes, if he or she can handle all of these steps. Some people like to think they can skip steps. They do so at their own peril because while readers may not all be editors, they invariably know when a book hasn't been edited properly. Yes, editing can be a large expense for a indie author, but an author who wants to succeed and be taken seriously as a professional will always choose to make room for it in their budget. 

That's it for this week with The Phrase Doctor. Until next Tuesday keep an eye out for editing issues and remember to show your local editor some love! And if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed, just drop us a line or leave a comment below.  

About Gabrielle:
Editor for The Phrase Doctor alongside her partner, Yvonne Glanville, Gabrielle earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in History, in addition to certification to teach both subjects in high school. After years of teaching college composition courses and history courses, she currently only teaches college students American and European history.

In addition, Gabrielle is an Amazon bestselling author of paranormal and historical erotic romance with her Sons of Navarus series and her Victorian Erotic Romance Trilogy. She's been writing for years, both in fiction and non-fiction, for pleasure and her day job, and began professionally editing over a decade ago.

Find out more about The Phrase Doctor and how to get 
your manuscript edited by the Doctor at:

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