4 Tips for Big Picture Editing


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Photo courtesy of Nic McPhee.

In film editing, “continuity” focuses on smooth transitions of time or space. It also connotes psychological or symbolic association of ideas. Writers can apply this to their novels. Here are a few things to look for regarding “big picture” editing.

Does the story make sense? 

Read your novel. I know it seems obvious, but try to remain impartial, and read it from start to finish just like your readers. Does anything leave you scratching your head? How did Joe get to Planet X? No idea? That might pose a problem.

Does it flow well? 

Is there a consistency in tone? Does the writing style and voice sound the same throughout the piece, whether you wrote it in one month or over five years? Do the characters sound the same throughout the novel? Does each character have a distinct voice? Are they easy to tell apart, even without dialog tags?

Do the details stay consistent? 

Authenticity is in the details. Whether you are writing literary fiction or fantasy, writers have to stay true to their fictional worlds. What makes J.K. Rowling so great? She created an entire alternate universe, and her readers completely bought into it, myself included. (Actually some days, I much prefer her world to my Muggle existence, but that is a blog post for another time.)

Little facts, like characters’ first and last names, children and their ages, or cars they drive, obviously must stay the same, but what about secondary characters or, even more difficult, what about “ambiance characters,” those who appear only once to set the scene, say at a party, for example? How do you keep track of everyone?

To help me keep them all straight, I make a character list for each novel that has first and last names, plus a short sentence of where they appear and a bio fact, such as “Dr. Mitchell Adams, fertility specialist, owns Mitchell Adams and Associates Center for Reproductive Health where Annie and John go for their diagnosis and procedures.” 

It helps me to have all of the names listed in one place, so I do not give two characters the same name. Using names that sound too much alike, such as Sarah and Sasha, can throw readers off as well.

Check your phraseology and sentence structure. 

Does your word choice convey your message or could the sentence be reworked to flow better? Does every word count? If not, get rid of it and rewrite the sentence. Word play is a part of good writing. Vary your sentence length and structure. Use short, clipped sentences to quicken the pace and heighten tension. Shorter paragraphs also accomplishes the same thing as you build to your novel’s climax.

A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Kelly Hashway said…
One of my revisions includes reading the manuscript from start to finish in one sitting or as close to one sitting as I can get. It takes careful planning to manage such a reading, but it's worth it. Consistency issues are easier to identify this way.
R. Doug Wicker said…
Maintaining continuity is a real bear. It's actually harder than line or copy editing, in my opinion. I, too, fall back on a Cast of Characters list, but even that doesn't help a whole heck of a lot. I frequently am going back on my current work in progress to make sure that Mr. A does in fact know such-and-such happened, and other little things such as that.
Thanks for reading, Kelly and R. Doug. You both are correct. Continuity takes a lot of planning and focus.
Brenda said…
Excellent.. Next week I am going to reread my novel and feedback from test readers. I want to do it all in one go ( as Kelly said, too). I am looking forward to next weeks post. I loath editing.

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