Friday, May 11, 2018

That Pesky Final Edit Pass

The most important editing pass you will make is the final one. It amazes me how many things can be fixed on that “last pass,” even if the manuscript has been read and reread many times. I recently had the opportunity to make a final edit pass on Aftermath Horizon, one of my novels that will soon be published for the third time. The book has been through three different editors from three publishers (three passes each), plus a total of nine formal passes by me. One might think the book would be error free, but it wasn’t. Listed below are some of the errors I discovered on the final pass.

1. Factual errors. My final editor had a medical background, so he was able to pick out an error associated with the symptoms of shock. I had indicated eye dilation was present when my hero went into shock. That symptom is only associated with severe brain damage and might not be observed in a person who recovers over a day or two. The story needs to jive with reality whenever possible.

2. Improbable physics. My hero and heroine were trapped in a deep hole and I had provided a way to get them out that my final editor could not accept. An alternate method, more physically believable, had to be devised. Physically unrealistic solutions to difficult problems facing one’s characters should be avoided.

3. Dialog attribution by inference. This was a bad one. We all know to avoid attributing speech to individuals with such statements as “Sally said” or “Mom chided;” however, I had managed to insert many dialog attributions by inference. These are more difficult to pick out. To avoid specific attribution, I usually have the character who is about to speak perform some action. For example, “The small man pointed to the giant with one hand while slapping John on the back with the other, ‘You will regret it if you piss him off.’” There are only three people present—John, the small man, and the giant. Therefore, one could write, “The small man pointed to the giant. ‘You will regret it if you piss him off.’” In this case, it’s clear who is speaking and who is listening. However, attribution by inference would happen if I had written, “The small man pointed to the giant. ‘You will regret it, John, if you piss him off.’” We already know John is being spoken to, so it’s not necessary to repeat his name. These inferences should be eliminated. Here’s another quick example. A father and son are talking, and the older man says, “Stay away from women, Son, because they can be trouble.” Again, the word “Son” should be eliminated. In natural dialog the father would not insert the word “Son.” BTW, in the last sentence, note that preposition phrases of three words or less at the beginning of a sentence do not need to be set off with a comma.

4. Note: If only two people are talking, the conversation should flow without actions taken by each between exchanges of dialog. Here’s an example:

The table knife isn’t sharp, but I manage to saw off a piece of the chewy meat while being as ladylike as I can. Professor James snickers. “If you think it’s hard to cut with a knife, wait until you try to eat it.”
He’s right. It’s like chewing rubber. I cover my mouth with one hand while reaching for my glass of water with the other. After washing it down in a lump, I look up with a grin and more than a little sarcasm. “That was tasty.”
He shakes his head. “The second bite is always better.”

In the above example, “He shakes his head.” should be eliminated. It’s not important to the conversation…and probably detracts.

5. Missing words. I found three or four instances of missing words. These are usually small words like it, if, there, with and the like.

6. Double period at the end of a sentence. This usually happens when an edit deletes text and new text is inserted. I’d search for double periods over the whole document.

7. Time breaks. These are usually shown by * * * *. I needed to insert a few time breaks to make it clear that time passed between paragraphs.

8. Use of may vs. might. For example: “I whisper to myself, and I’m suddenly worried that my own voice may be the only voice I’ll ever hear again.” The word may should be replaced with might.

9. Spell check everything. This will catch spaces which have been left out (as in “Ithink”).

10. Political correctness. My heroine was 16 years old in the novel. She falls in love at one point and the inevitable eventually happens. I had to increase her age to 18 to be sensitive to the political climate that exists today.

11. Eliminate extra words. “He’s not what I pictured in my mind.” was changed to, “He’s not what I pictured.” I tried to remove all the extra words in the document. There were about ten cases. I hope I got them all.

There were several other errors, but you get the point. The final edit pass should be the most detailed reading you do before handing the book over to your publisher as “edited.”

Thanks for reading,

James L. Hatch


Tina Donahue said...

Great post, James. I especially agree with #11 - extra words. Like 'She nodded her head'. What else would she nod except her head? Or 'He sat down'. When you sit, you go down, not up. Many authors don't realize how those extra words slow pace.

James L. Hatch said...

You are right, Tina. I become more aware of those extra words every time I edit a book. Perhaps, at some time in the future, I will become a seasoned editor. Stranger things have happened.

Fiona McGier said...

A lot of what you list are stylistic choices, in my opinion. The "may" vs "might" problem is an example. May is present tenses, while might is not. Since the rest of the sentence is present tense, the same must be used. Like "can" and "could", these are often choices the author must make, rather than hard and fast rules.

I'm not an editor, but have been a certified English teacher for many, many, many years. In the "trenches" of teaching, if I can just get the kids to stop using "could of" instead of "could've" or "could have," then I consider myself lucky!

And I sometimes like to paint pictures with my words, when depicting a scene. So I'm definitely not in the "less is more" school. To each their own.