Editing Tip #65

Culling for Clarity Pt. 1 ~

One of the most important aspects of editing you can focus on is checking your work for clarity. This should be done

Image taken by Pot Noodle - Flickr, Creative Commons

Image taken by Pot Noodle – Flickr, Creative Commons

in two ways:

By Self-Editing

By Peer-Editing

I know! I sound so “teacher-ish” and right now you’re either laughing or squirming. But it’s true. There’s a good reason why we teach editing like this this in school (at all tiers of the system) – because it works.

Let’s take a look at the questions you need to ask yourself when re-reading your first or second draft:


1) Am I making sense?

All too often we know what we want to say but for some reason it hasn’t gotten from our brain to the page in the most coherent way possible.

2) Is there anywhere that I’ve used a bunch of words where one or two will work better?

In dialogue this isn’t so much a problem – this is how people speak. In narrative, you want to get your prose as crisp and clean as possible in order to convey your ideas (less is likely to be misconstrued that way).

3) Do I have any stray ideas or plot lines that might cause confusion?

As we write, we don’t always keep track of all the possibilities (or all of the directions) we might go with the story. It’s necessary to find these loose-ends and tidy them up. If you’re planning on leaving a few of them unanswered for a second or third book in the series, make sure they aren’t integral to the main plot of book 1.

4) Have I contradicted myself anywhere?

This often arises in the little details… her eyes were blue in chapter 1 but were violet by chapter 5 and either there was no explanation for this change or they were supposed to be one colour for the whole book.

5) If I use new or “advanced” terminology (either for non-fiction or fiction) does the meaning come across without being preachy or sounding like a definition?

Without fail, we want to make sure that our readers know what we’re talking about. Sometimes, we get a little carried away with back story, repeating ourselves, or over explaining – search these moments out and destroy them.

If you can believe it, self-editing for clarity is one of the most difficult tasks to do in the early stages of a content edit. Why? We know what we meant to say – we wrote it after all – but that doesn’t necessarily mean we can be properly objective about what is or isn’t clear in our work.

Join me next week to discuss how best to make use of a peer-editor.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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