Edit, edit, edit – Rachel Hore

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By Rachel Hore

Whether you are the kind of writer who likes to get the whole novel down in one long, mad creative rush, or the slower sort, like me, who looks back and considers as she goes along, there will come a delicious point where you type ‘THE END’ and sit back in your chair with a sigh of relief. ♥

It’s a wonderful feeling, I wouldn’t knock it, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have actually finished!

Even for the most seasoned writer, this is when the hard work really begins. Stephen King in his book ‘On Writing’ calls it the time when you cease writing ‘with the door closed’ and revisit your work ‘with the door open’. When the door is closed there is just you getting down what’s in your head. When it’s open you are thinking about the reader. Do the words you’ve poured onto the page convey everything you want them to? Will they entertain, inform, disturb, exhilarate? In short, is your book the best that you can make it?

Here are some tips about editing your own work:

1. First up, put the book away for a while, even for just a few days, and go and get on with the rest of your life. This is the time when I tidy my office and catch up with friends. When you come back to it you’ll view it with freshness and a necessary critical distance.

2. Read it in one go, as though you are one of your own readers. Make quick notes as you proceed. Don’t worry about detail for now; you are looking at the big picture. Does the story work? Are there obvious gaps? Have you been too oblique or, just as bad, over-explained? Have you brought your characters to life? Does the narrative pacing work? Is the point of view consistent? And the voice, can you hear it as you read?

My novels usually have two central characters in two different time periods. Each narrative has to feel distinct and the stories intertwine in a satisfying and dramatic fashion, so sometimes for me this stage is literally a scissors-and-paste job!houseonbellevue-pbb-flagirl-on-left

3. Spend some time mulling over what your story is about, no, really about. Is its theme obsessive love, maybe, or the boundaries of loyalty, or the nature of grief? My characters in The House on Bellevue Gardens are in search of somewhere to belong, so I decided that deracination is its theme. Bear yours in mind when you work on your next draft. Perhaps there are small turns of storyline or reflections about events that you can develop to explore your theme.

4. Dialogue dramatizes and gives your characters life. Do yours speak as individuals or do they all sound the same? Does their speech reveal truths about them or, just as usefully, show that they’re hiding something? Are conversations intriguing and loaded with conflict? Cut out all those boring comments about cups of tea or the weather. And if your dialogue is sharp enough you won’t need to say how someone is speaking (loudly or angrily or sarcastically).

5. Whether or not you think of yourself as a literary writer, language is everything. It is all that we have. Cliché obscures – banish it. It’s best to be plain, clear and precise about what you mean. Prune rambling sentences, excise redundant words or phrases. We all have words we overuse. Mine include ‘look’ and ‘frown’. Find new ways of expressing yourself.

6. The final stages of editing are about presentation. From correct spelling and punctuation, through to clear chapter headings and double spaced text, a well-presented script makes reading easy and pleasurable for literary agents and publishers, and shows that you’re a professional.

Before Rachel Hore became a writer, she was an editor for HarperCollins Publishers. She is the author of eight novels, including A Gathering Storm and A Week in Paris, which were both Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers. Her new novel, The House on Bellevue Gardens is published in paperback in the UK in September.


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