The Finishing Touch
You’ve finished your short story or novel and it’s wonderful. It is the most exciting piece of writing to ever grace a computer screen and the best bit is, there are no mistakes. Okay, maybe one or too, but the story is so good that the reader won’t notice or will forgive you. But if you’re sending it out to an agent, publisher, or competition, or submitting it to a writing group, that assumption so wrong, it couldn’t be wronger if it tried.
(So far so good, but please tell me that you noticed the word ‘too’ in the paragraph above. If you didn’t, you really need to practice your proofreading/editing skills. You could try ‘Writers’ Forum Magazine’ which has a monthly feature titled ‘First Draft’ that shows a section from a published book with intentional mistakes for you to find.)
Agents and publishers receive submissions every day and most get rejected as they don’t fulfil the rules of submission, but assuming you get past that point, spelling and grammar mistakes are the most popular reason for rejection slips.
Send it to a competition where they’re judging lots of entries and they’re looking for an excuse to move on to the next one, so the word ‘too’ is an easy excuse to bin it. If you can’t be bothered to correct it, why should they be bothered to read it?
Submit it to a writing group and the grammar wizard will jump all over it.
Editing your own work is near impossible as your brain translates what it expects to see in your writing and not necessarily what is printed on the page.
Here are some easy things you can do to avoid problems with your work.
Pay an editor to fix it, or . . .
1. Leave your writing for a couple of days/weeks before editing, that way you won’t remember it so well.
2. Use the spell/grammar checker in your word processing program.
3. Read a paragraph or a section and write down on a notepad what it adds to the story. Look for holes in the plot, contradictions, etc.
4. One read isn’t going to spot every mistake, so read it again with different objectives. Spelling, grammar, plot, speech, repeated words/phrases, etc. Each pass needs to focus on a different aspect.
5. Read it from the end to the beginning a paragraph at a time.
6. Change the font, print it out and read it aloud into a dictation machine or phone and play it back. Any stumbles or clunky sentences will be noticeable when you listen to it, as opposed to reading, and a different font makes it look like a new piece. Make notes on the hard copy during playback.
7. Watch out for adverbs.
‘Anne ran quickly into the office and shouted loudly at her boss’.
'Anne sprinted into the office and screamed at her boss’.
8. Don’t use clichés. If we’ve seen them used elsewhere, it’s lazy writing that doesn’t impress.
9. If you’re writing a novel, make use of a subplot rather than plodding along from a to b to c. An easy way is to write your story, then write a separate (but linked) story for another/other character/s and slot it in between chapters with cliff hangers at the end of each chapter. Keep those pages turning.
10. Lose the redundant phrases.
‘She had a smile on her face.’ (As opposed to her elbow?)
Try - ‘She smiled.’
‘He looked up at the sky above.’ (Other than astronauts, has anyone ever looked down at the sky?)
Try - ‘He looked at the sky.’
‘She saw her face reflected in the mirror.’ (Unless she’s a vampire, this isn’t a revelation.)
Try - ‘She looked in the mirror.’
‘He looked down at the dead body, then checked his pulse.’ (Might be better to check for a pulse on the body. Just to be sure he’s dead.)
Try - ‘He looked at the body, then checked for a pulse.)
We all do it. Don’t beat yourself up, but try to fix everything before you unveil it to a harsh world.
PS. I don’t make mistakes, so if you find any grammar/spelling mistakes in this piece, they were intentional to see if you were paying attention. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)