Right. My name's Vix, and it's Friday down under, and lor' bless those wonderful things called timezones since this guest blog post is due today, UK time. Hello from the future. Anyway, I've been editing a book since July, so when my wonderful host asked me to do a spot over here I did a lot of hand-wringing and head-scratching as to what on earth I could possibly write about before the little lightbulb went on over my head--bing! there it is--oh yes. Editing.
So, editing. Editing, editing, editing, editing. I'm not going to talk about weaving the perfect plot, or description, or characters, or any of that stuff. This is all about what happens *after* you've sent your wee bairn AKA manuscript off to the wilds of beta readers, editors, or simply let your gut (or whatever part of you that hurts the most when it gets punched) make the thing as perfect, story-wise, as you can get it. This is about the part that comes between that and you formatting the thing to go off into the world, with the idea that if you follow at least some of these steps, the amount of expletives you'll need to utter when you see the thing in print/e-book form will be markedly reduced. A how-to guide for the reduction of those niggling little errors I've heard many authors complain about after the fact, in other words.
1. Find and replace.
Wonderful little function, this one. Comes in pretty much all word-processors, as you no doubt know by now. Not just good for changing Jims to Jills, or vice versa, but also for picking up nasty little formatting errors like double spaces after periods, no spaces at all after periods (or commas) and so on.
Found at http://wordle.net/
Everyone has those words they overuse. This is where wordle comes in handy. You copy and paste your novel into the box, click submit, and back comes a lovely little tag-cloud type thing with the most commonly used words in a nice colourful font right in your face. It ignores the "invisible words" like 'the', 'and', 'then', etc. I do one pass for the entire book (to get a good overview), and one per chapter, in case I've unintentionally overused a more unusual word in a short span of pages. If you see words like "eyes" coming up in a giant font, it may mean you're relying too much on one form of conveying emotion. The main character(s)' names popping up may mean you've gone a bit "Heathcliff!" "Cathy!" in your interactions through dialogue. Other times there are the old bugbears like "just". In general, you can ignore the smaller words--just pay attention to the ones that really stand out as being potentially problematic.
Built-in on the Mac platform (Edit menu/Speech/Start Speaking); not sure about Windows, though you can probably download about 20 programs for free that will do the same thing (only one of which is bound to attach a naked picture of Bill Gates every time you send an email to your mum.) And if you're running Linux, well, what do you care, you'll probably write your own program to do it. Anyhow, sit back, relax, and let the dulcet tones of Stephen Hawking read each of your chapters aloud while you follow along on the screen. What this is going to do is immediately pinpoint any words you've missed out that your brain automatically fills in no matter how many times you read the darn passage, and also remind you that you wanted to say, for example, "revise" rather than "revile" right there. It will also help pinpoint repetitive words/phrases.
4. Hunt the Cliché!
There are plenty of trite phrases in common usage. But what about the really clever ones you come up with all on your own, the ones your brain looks at and says, "That's bloody brilliant, that is; I'm gonna use that again." And so it does. On page 10, and page 55, and page 103, and page 229, and-- Anyway, you get the picture. This program runs on Windows, so I've not yet given it a whirl, but apparently it's just for such an occasion (and includes your garden variety clichés), and it's free to try out for up to 20 files. It's called Cliché Cleaner and you can find it at http://www.cliches.biz/clichecleaner/ccinfo.html
So, these are some of the best ways I've uncovered to get a cleaner-looking final product. I hope you guys find it useful!
Bio: Vixen Phillips is an Australian writer of dark, mythic, confessional, lyrical fiction, and runs her own indie publishing project Lost Violet Press. Her first full-length novel, Trapdoor, a dark homoerotic love story, is due to be republished before the year's end, and her steampunk series is due out next year. You can find more info about her books at http://lostviolet.com/, or stalk her on twitter: @lostvioletpress.