Content editing means looking for factual errors, contradictions, inconsistencies and discrepancies in plot, character and dialogue. Why do authors dread content editing? They are too immersed in their story to edit with an open mind.
The most important content editing rule for authors:
Give your work a rest;
then edit with your mind focused
on your story’s relationship with the reader.
• Take each chapter one paragraph at a time. Search for obvious errors.
• Then focus on each sentence. Look for awkward sentences that might confuse readers and commas that change the intended meaning of a sentence or cause readers to pause where you don’t want them to.
• Check for similes and metaphors. Are they necessary? Do they make sense? Overuse distracts readers and misuse makes you look amateurish. He produced globules of liquid lava (The heat made him sweat.) He ambled forward on boney supports. (He limped.)
• Think about characters and dialog. Is it clear who is speaking? Does the dialog fit your character’s personality and historical time? How does the character react? Is the reaction appropriate? Too strong? Too quick? Necessary? Consider dialect—regional differences in speech. Water fountain/bubbler. Shopping cart/buggy. (The Dictionary of American Regional English is a helpful multi-volume resource for writers, although pricey. Look for a used set on Amazon.com or find it at your public library.)
• Zero in on technology. Do appliances, communication devices and electronics fit your story’s historical period? If set in the future would the technology have changed from present day? Choose generic terms instead of trending ones. Smart phone/phone. He made a copy on his printer and mailed it/he made a copy and sent it.
• If your book is one of a series, consider whether you have shared enough back story in the first chapters so new readers won’t be confused. Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the Cat Who mystery series always began her books with a review of her main characters. She was a master at segueing any necessary back story into her content. (If you decide to check out her work, I suggest any book from the middle of her series. The last several books were ghostwritten and not well done.)
• Finally, if your novel is with a publisher trust your editor. She, or he, is reading your work with fresh eyes. Trust that your editor’s suggestions are good ones, and be open to change.
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