Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Catching those silly words

On Monday I sent off the revised manuscript of THE ANCIENT DEAD to my editor, well ahead of the deadline. The revisions included some substantive changes based on his suggestions, some story changes I came up with on my own, and some minor tweaking and polishing. Do we ever stop editing our work? Every time I read over a section, I find things to tweak. Delete that unnecessary word, add another for greater clarity, change a word for one that flows better, or for an elegant variation as Aline described in her post this week. In fact, even once the book is published and been on the shelf for ages, I've been known to tweak phrases on the fly when I do readings, wishing I'd noticed that silly word choice earlier.

At a certain point, the tweaking has to stop. It's time to send the manuscript on its way and let others have their way with it. With fresh eyes, the copy editors and proofreaders come up with different improvements, and by the time the book gets to the printers, it is the most polished it can be. Except for that silly word that gets changed at every reading.

The last edit I do before I send the manuscript off is to run it through a series of mind-numbingly dull but crucial filters. I don't have any fancy apps that tell me I've used the word 'possibly' five hundred and eleven times in three hundred pages. I don't have an app to tell me my character has 'rolled their eyes' at least once in every chapter. Or drummed their fingers, or whatever verbal tic I am currently fond of. I am more aware of these now, so possibly I catch myself before my character rolls his eyes, but maybe some new tics creep in instead. And then there are the very useless words that just seem to pop into a sentence because I am on automatic pilot.

That's where the filters come in. For this, lacking a fancy app, I use good, old-fashioned "Find next". I type in the word I want to catch and then plow through the manuscript instance by instance, deciding whether I need that word or not, and deleting as many as possible. Because I don't want to catch all the embedded words like every, or justice, I have to do the search several times with a space preceding it and a period or comma afterwards. When you put as many just's into three hundred pages as I do, it takes a while. That takes even longer.

After that I tackle the adverbs. This involves typing ly followed by a space into the Find function and then wading through the adverbs that clutter the page, along with an awful lot of only's and family's,  but that can't be helped. Each adverb has to be considered on its merits and either spared, deleted, or replaced with a single punchier word. Then I repeat the whole exercise with comma and period after the ly.

Now the manuscript is almost ready. It only needs a final spellcheck. In my case, in the matter of hyphenated words, my Spellcheck happened to disagree with the manual of style being followed by my publisher, so I had to ignore all the times Spellcheck told me to fix coworker or reestablish.

After that, I press send and off it goes, out of my hands. And I go to the fridge, where the wine is already chilling. Perhaps I walk the dogs first, because that boring filter process can take a few hours and they and their bladders are running out of patience. But in the end, there is wine. Probably chocolate too.

I'm curious to know what editing apps and tricks other authors use to catch those pesky little phrases and words that the brain just glosses over when we reread our pages. If there is a cheap, easy fix for an old Luddite like me, I'll happily try it.


Anonymous said...

I also use a 'read out loud' function to get the dialogue out of my head and presented as a reader may experience it. It helps to catch some weird exchanges and 'polish' them up. You novels are well-written, fast paced compelling reads – looking forward to the latest.

Barbara Fradkin said...

Thank you! I agree, reading out loud can catch a lot of poor writing, and I do that on occasion, especially for specific scenes that I"m not really happy about. There's another word I search for - really! Most of the time you can just take it out.