Grammar Tips for Editing

Now, I am not an English major. I’ve never really paid attention in English class. I have no formal editing training (or writing training, for that matter) but I consider myself a pretty good editor. (Better when editing something I haven’t written, but I believe that’s true for us all).

How did I get good? Practice, the same as anything else. Google is one of my best friends while editing, not only for fact-checking, but for grammar-checking. Here are some of the most common mistakes I make, listed in no particular order.

Farther verses Further

Farther refers to physical distance, like the car was farther away, while further refers to a more abstract concept, like her orgasm can’t be much further.

Lie verses Lay

You lie down next to your lover. You lay down a blanket first (if you wanna get laid). (More here, because I still mess this up.)

Faze verses Phase

Your two-year-old is going through a phase, but the phases of the moon do not faze him because he is not a werewolf. Phase is like a transition, faze means to be affected by something.

Effect verses Affect

The computer was affected by the lightening, though that had no effect on the student’s final essay because he was a fucking hipster who wrote it all out by candle-light. Affect is a verb and effect is a noun. Affect can be a noun, but very rarely, and I’ve only seen it used like that in a psychology journal, so typically you can ignore that exception.

Assent verses Ascent

The mother signed the permission slip as assent for her son’s ascent of Mount Everest. I think this is a mistake people make not realizing that it’s a mistake they could make. If that makes sense.

Wary verses Weary

The owner was weary of how wary the dog was of everyone. Weary is tired and wary is cautious. Again, I think this follows under the same category as the pairing above.

Rein verses Reign

The peasant pulled on the reins in the rain during the reign of King Charles the Butt. If you mess this up in a fantasy novel, your readers will notice. Probably. (A historical novel, too.)

Again, these are either mistakes I make or mistakes I am paranoid about and Google each time I use them. (I’m looking at you, lie verses lay.)

What mistakes do you most commonly make?

 

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How To Self-Publish Your Novel Professionally – Step One: Editing

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I posted something similar to this before, but I want to go more in depth now, so we’re going to start with the first part of the story. The content. This is the simplest part, but it’s the easiest to get wrong. Technically step one is to write the novel, but we’ll pretend editing is the first step. (If you haven’t written a novel I don’t know why you’d be here in the first place.)

What you really need for this part is an editor. Freelance editors are easy to find if you have internet access, and if you’ve been blogging about writing or reading for long enough you’ve probably come across some editors in your time here. Pick someone you trust who has good reviews/recommendations that’s within your price range. If you’re not sure about them, ask if they can do a smaller chuck of your work to see if you can work together alright.

Another option is to obviously get an editor that works with an agency, but that will be more expensive and those editors are bound to be more selective. Some won’t take submissions unless you have an agent. However, once you decide to hire an editor, your life is relatively easy. You just need to work with the suggestions they make and correct highlighted mistakes. Bam, you’re done.

Note: Do NOT try to haggle down the price unless it’s $10,000 or something ridiculous. These people are trying to make a living. You wouldn’t like it if someone said, “Oh, you’re self-published, that means your book isn’t worth more than X amount” so why would you do that to an editor?

However, I know that a lot of people who are just starting out don’t have money for an editor, and you know what? That’s fine. We can’t let money stop us from being in the publishing game, so here’s how I prepared my novel.

First off, I finished writing. Then I let it stew for a while before going back and making changes on my computer. For the second draft, I printed it out and looked through for mistakes. I also rearranged scenes, cut out parts that didn’t fit well with the story, and worked on my characterizations. I typed it all up and then read through it another time, again fixing any mistakes I found. By then, it was looking pretty polished. I printed out a proof copy and gave it to my mother to look for mistakes (she’s not really the best or most observant of beta readers, but hey, I didn’t have anyone else). Finally, I printed out another proof copy for myself and am going through fixing all errors that I find, including extra spaces after hyphens, quotes that face the wrong way, saying her instead of his…. all the fun little things that can easily slip by. It will be my last run through the novel. There were other drafts with minor changes in between, but that’s the gist of it.

If you noticed, I wasn’t nitpicking things for my second draft. Or my third. The first thing you look for should NOT be grammar and spelling, though you can fix that too if you pick up on it. You HAVE to look at the content of your novel. Does the plot make sense? Are your characters consistent throughout the story? Are there things that your readers wouldn’t understand? Basically, is it a good story? Does it make you want to keep reading? Are there things you have in there that sounded good while writing, but don’t really fit anymore? It can be hard to cut out scenes and characters that you’ve grown fond of, but it’s for the best in the end.

A beta reader would be useful at this time, but they won’t always want to look at it if the grammar is a hot holy mess. Finding people to read your novel might be hard. You have to make them want to read it, otherwise how will you convince people to buy it once it’s published?

Now, if you don’t know a lot of grammar rules, Google is going to be your friend for these steps. Look up common mistakes or buy a grammar for dummies book. Ask a friend who is English-smart to look over your work (even if you can only convince them to read two chapters at most). If you’re no good at grammar, do NOT say “Oh, it’s okay, it’s just grammar, my story will still be okay.” It won’t. It really won’t.

I read a wonderful story that had little to no editing and it was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t give it a good review because I will not recommend a book that is hard to read. Bad grammar makes a book hard to get through. If on your first page you use the word “alot”, no one is picking up that book. I cannot stress enough how important editing is. If you can’t do it yourself, wait to publish. Either learn about grammar or find someone to help you out (assuming you don’t have money for an editor).

Here are some tips for editing your novel:

  • While reading through the first few chapters in your first draft, make a note of which mistakes you make and how often you make them. If you always forget to use a comma after a dialogue instead of a period, that’s something you know you have to focus on when reading the rest of the story. If you mess up affect/effect a lot, search your document for every instance of those words to ensure you didn’t miss them.
  • Don’t read it through all at once for a grammar run through. For plot/characterization this is fine, but you don’t want to get caught up in the story when looking for errors. Read one or two chapters, take a break, then come back. Each chapter should be fresh. Also, avoid editing while sleepy or drunk. You will not do a good job.
  • Don’t write in all caps, overuse/underuse dialogue, have character react unrealistically to things for the sake of the plot, use words that would be found in the verbal section of the SATs, or write a series for the sake of writing a series (as in, not because the plot calls for it, but because you want to stretch it out).
  • If you don’t have a deadline, set your novel aside for a while. Months, weeks, however long you want. Come back to it and read it again as if it was entirely new. Try to see it like a reader would.
  • Read more. Especially novels in your genre, but any reading will help (assuming it’s news articles and blog posts rather than tweets and craigslist ads). Reading improves your skill in the English language overall.
  • If you have gone through less than three drafts of your novel, it’s not enough. I don’t care if you think it’s the next Harry Potter/50 Shades/(Insert popular novel here), edit it again.
  • Do not treat beta readers as slaves. Beta readers are those people who agree to help you look over your novel. If you’re not paying them, they have no obligation to get back to you. They don’t have to catch every mistake or even read the whole thing. Many beta readers will mysteriously disappear, either because they weren’t that into your story or you were abusing them. Remember that beta readers are an asset. Cherish them.
  • Finally, only send your novel to people that you know you can trust. I’ve personally had my novel stolen (more info here) just from having it on FictionPress. The easiest way to prevent this is to only send it to those you know, but to also only send bits and pieces of it. I put it in a PDF file to make it a bit harder to just copy and paste everything. The best way to ensure that no one can steal your work is to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. To register online is like $35. It will be more once you factor in paper and ink to send in the physical copy of your work, but you have to do this anyways. Get a copyright for your work. Do it. Do it do it do it. Seriously. I’m sending mine in later this week. It’s important. Seriously. (Have I stressed enough that you should do this?)

Next up: Step Two: Cover Image.

Editing – You Have to Embrace Change

So you finished a story. Whether it be a novel, a short story, or some 10,000 word rambling you don’t know what to call. Congratulations! You finished. That’s great. That’s the first step.

Now, you have to take a step back and look at it. You go and fix all those your/you’re confusion or when you accidentally made your character pray to “Gid”. All those little errors that you know are hiding in there from your mad dash at writing.

You’re done now, right? All grammar errors are fixed and all typos have been abolished. You’ve finished your story! It’s all done.

WRONG. BAD YOU, IF YOU AGREED WITH ME.

There is more to a story than grammar. What if all of your sentences are too short? What if ALL your verbs have adverbs riding on their tails? What if you only say “Said” four times, and the rest of the time it was “Yelled,” “Decided,” “Expressed,” “Hissed,” “Gulped,” or “Addressed”? What if your chapters are wildly uneven or your “novel” is only 30,000 words? Or it’s a romance at 300,000?

Still, that’s just surface things. Those are writing elements that you can improve as you grow as a writer. That’s still not focusing on the content of your story.

What if your character starts loving their love interest for no reason? What if by giving your MC’s mom “cool”, you actually made them annoying as fuck? What if your plot is weak, or your character motivations just aren’t there? What if all of your characters are flat generic bores with no differences between them? What if there’s nothing realistic about your story, like a girl from a trailer park owning a brand new BMW?

Some people forget that looking at this is a part of revising your work. The problem is, you might not see it in your own story. I had to reread my novel Kiss of The Fey at least four times before realizing that my MC never mentioned her family after she was taken away from them. The plot I had set up was convoluted as fuck (I actually wrote that in the margin while revising) and it took me days to think or something that would be simpler to replace it. I cut characters and cut scenes, even scenes that had really good lines in them. (I know how it feels to write a sentence that comes out flawlessly, but if it doesn’t fit you have to take it out.) My characters started liking each other too quickly and the old warlock acted too much like a typical old warlock.

I knew I had to change a lot, and I know I’m still not done. I’m a critical reader, even on my own work. Until I can get someone to tear it apart, I know it won’t be as good as it can be. I urge everyone to find a critical reader of their own. Don’t ask for a reader to fix your spelling or grammar, and don’t ask them to help with sentence structure. Ask them to dig deep and find the structural issues in your story. John Green agrees that an editor’s job is not to correct grammar, but to help your story make sense as a whole. I know that those kinds of changes are the painful ones, like when someone tells you your main character is boring or that the plot was stupid and didn’t make sense.

Some people can do this on their own, but many become too attached to what they’ve already written and refuse to rid their story of what shouldn’t be there. Either way, you need to remember why you write. If you write for yourself, don’t bother changing anything. It doesn’t matter. If writing is what pleases you, just keep writing. However, if you plan to have your story available to a wider audience, you need to EDIT. Edit that baby so hard that it’s almost unrecognizable in the end. Don’t just change a sentence here and there, change entire scenes, entire subplots.

Listen to what others say to make your story the best it can be. If ten people say “Oh, that’s great” but one person says “They fell in love too fast” you need to examine to see if that second person is true. You don’t have to try to change your work to please everyone, but I know that some readers just don’t care about quality as much as others. I’ve had people tell me I should get truly shitty writing published. It’s the critical readers you need, whether they’re right or not, to help improve your writing.

So go forth, write, but remember the importance of editing.