So you’ve just finished your first draft and you’re about to begin editing. You’ve settled down, ready to get stuck into it, but where do you start? Proofreading your own work can be a tricky task. How do you go about spotting the errors in this monster? That means thousands of words, and thousands of things that will need fixing.
Here are seven common errors to keep in mind while taking to your work with the red pen:
1. Tense: Make sure you’re using the correct tense. If the book is in past tense (I went, she ate, he yelled), stay in past tense. If it’s in present tense (I do, he runs, she says), stay in present tense. Don’t jump back and forth between present and past, except for when you’re talking about things that happened before the part of the story you’re writing, such as with flashbacks (I had gone, she had eaten, he’d run).
2. Slightly wrong words: These might just be the most common error in the books I edit. What do I mean by ‘slightly’ wrong? Well, it’s the difference between ‘squealed’ and ‘squeaked’ – similar meanings, but just not quite the same. Pay attention if you read a sentence and you think something about it sounds odd. Read it to friend/spouse/random passerby and see what they think. Fix it up.
3. Information dumps: Your characters’ entire backstories shouldn’t be laid out on the first page. Mete it out as the story goes on in little hints here and there. It will hook the reader and keep them interested, whereas a big info dump is a rookie error and will turn people off.
4. Wordy sentences: Your writing should never be obtrusive. Overly floral prose detracts from the story. That doesn’t mean your writing has to be boring; it just means you need to pick the right word to get your point across rather that using five words to say the same thing.
5. Overuse of adjectives and adverbs: See the above point. Pick the right word in the first place so you don’t need to modify the words you choose. (There are exceptions, of course – if you have an overly pretentious character, you might want to overcomplicate their dialogue, but generally speaking simple is best.)
6. Homophones: Keep your eyes peeled for instances where you’ve used the wrong spelling. There is a BIG difference between ‘he lovingly caressed my waist’ and ‘he lovingly caressed my waste’.
7. When in doubt, use ‘said’ or ‘asked’. This ties in with points 4 and 5. After a little while, ‘he gasped’/’she spluttered’/’I roared’ can get a tad melodramatic. ‘Said’ should be used more often than anything else. If you’re writing your characters’ dialogue and action well, you shouldn’t need anything more.
Did you find this helpful? If you’re looking for a line/copy editor or proofreader, check out my Editing Services page. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get a sample chapter edited for free and/or to book my services.