When I was doing tech editing, the first thing I would do was format.  One, I like formatting (so sue me), and two, I felt like it allowed me to get a feel for what was going to be in the document.

Now, however, I do my text editing first and format editing second, on ebooks.  Why, I’m not sure, but every time I try to do the formatting first on my ebooks, it gets under my skin. Maybe it has to do with the nature of working with other people’s stuff vs. my own; I don’t know.  Regardless, you may want to do the formatting first and text editing second.

Text editing, in this context, is reading through the work line by line and looking for errors in the text itself–the things that wouldn’t change if you copied all the text and pasted it into another file as unformatted text.  This can also be called line editing or copyediting, but isn’t quite the same, as you’ll be including proofreading in this stage as well (in shorter documents).

I suggest the following strategy:

  • For short documents (short stories), don’t bother with a style sheet, go through the document once to text edit, once to format, and once for a “sanity check,” or a flip through to make sure there are no big uglies.
  • For medium-length documents (novellas), use a style sheet, go through the document once for style and consistency, once for nitpicks, once to format, and once for a sanity check.
  • For longer or more complex documents (novels, collections), clean up the document, go through a critique group or beta readers to catch brain farts if nothing else, then finish as with the medium-length documents.  You may want to have someone else read the book after you think you’re absolutely done with it.  I guarantee something will jump out.

You also may want to test out your results on readers you know to be at least somewhat anal about grammar.  Keep an ear out for people who make fun of unnecessary apostrophe’s and extra or missing, commas.  Go through the editing process on your own, then hand the story over to your Guinea pig.  If you’re leaving a lot of problems in the document, you may want to have someone else edit.  If you’re leaving a few oopsies (one or two a chapter), don’t worry about it; you’re probably doing it well enough.

Before text editing, I double-check the following, to save time (and yes, I will go into more detail about these later):

  • Make sure my word processor is set up for curly quotes, then do a find-and-replace on ” and ‘.
  • Make sure all my m-dashes are coded as a proper m-dash and not as two hyphens or space-hyphen-space (find-and-replace).
  • Change all two spaces to one space (find-and-replace).  I can’t seem to get myself out of the habit of typing these.
  • Spell check.

Spell check will often help me catch inconsistently-spelled names; I add the correct spelling to the dictionary so the incorrect ones stick out like a sore thumb.

If you are not familiar with editing, you may want to focus on one or two things at a time, then go back through for another pass.  However, this can cause you to become “blind” to your document, or unable to see any errors.  If you get to that point, set the document aside for a while or have someone else take over.  When you’re editing, it doesn’t do any good to phone it in.

The urge will almost always be to edit too much.  Remember:  trust your writer-brain.  If you’re fussing around with a lot of edits, walk away from the computer, take a break, write something new.  Editor brain wants perfection and order; writer brain wants to tell a story.  Trust your writer brain, because you’re not selling perfection, you’re selling a story.  When writer brain wants to make errors on purpose–let it.

POV

In general, each section of a story should have a definite POV that should be clearly obvious to the reader.  Not only should the “person” be consistent (first person I, second person you, third person he/she/it/they), but the person at the center of the action should stay the same throughout the section.

This becomes tricky in third-person omniscient work; the whole point of having a third-person omniscient POV is to be able to see from multiple people’s perspectives.  However, an excessive amount of shifting perspectives, even when handled perfectly, is annoying–and when it’s not clear to the reader that a shift has occurred, it can make a section unreadable and disorienting.

This is one of the hardest things to edit if you’ve screwed it up, because there are no objective rules on how to do it.

However, if you set subjective rules for yourself on how to handle your shifts in POV and then use them consistently, you will (subconsciously) train your reader how to follow along when you shift.

Some possibilities:

  • Keep to one POV per chapter, and make sure it’s obvious within the first paragraph whose POV you’re using.
  • When shifting POVs inside a chapter, add an extra white space, and make it obvious, etc.
  • If you’re using first person POV, only see what the character can see and think what the character can think.
  • Avoid “head-hopping,” that is, seeing things from another character’s POV just because it’s convenient or funny or whatever–pick a plan for POV shifts, and stick to it.
  • If you’re using third-person POV, put characters’ actual thoughts in italics, e.g., This stupid editing series will be the death of me. You don’t need to add, “she thought” afterwards; generally, readers are sophisticated enough to catch on after the first few times you do it.

Once you have your rules set up (and added to your style sheet, if using), go through the document looking for breaks in the rules.  You might find it helpful to search for “I/He/She” or “Me/Him/Her” throughout the document.  During times when you’re deeply into your character, it’s not unusual to slip from “She” did whatever to “I.”

As with many things in editing, if you do it consistently, you can probably get away with it.