When editing a mss, I used to slush through it, line by line, with the general goal of making it better. But a tip I learned from screenwriting also helps me edit my manuscripts – editing for a specific purpose.
For example, a month ago I finished editing a mss and thought I had it perfect. But then I decided to run through it one more time with the goal of cutting away unneeded words, be it a single word in a sentence or the entire sentence. I challenged myself to cut a certain number of pages from the manuscript. I limited myself to editing 10 pages per day so as not to try and speed through it. It took over a month, but I was quite surprised and pleased with the result. I cut over 25 pages from a 410 page manuscript. That’s over 6% cut away, and the result is cleaner, more efficient prose.
Another example of editing for a purpose is to take a single character, and go through to edit only that character’s dialog. By focusing on only one character at a time, you better insure the consistency of that character’s speech throughout the story.
When editing screenplays I regularly only look at the action lines and skip all the dialog in order to focus on making the action as crisp as possible.
Another example is to look at only the verbs to insure that you are using the most appropriate action verbs.
By making multiple passes through the mss, each with a specific purpose, it keeps you focused on the goal.
Does it take longer to complete a mss this way? Certainly. But for me, having the best possible end product is more important than how much time it takes to get there.
And with that in mind, I’d like to add another editing tip. Reading aloud. I recently found that if I convert my MS Word files to rtf formatted files, my MacBook Pro will read it back to me aloud. The voice is slightly mechanical but is good enough that I catch a ton of mistakes. You see, when I proofread, I often see what I think is on the page rather than what is actually there. But by selecting pages and having the computer read them aloud, I hear what’s actually on the page. I love my Macbook Pro, but this ability to have it read aloud is what I love the most.