Monday, January 2, 2012

A Little Organization Takes the Pain out of Editing By Jannine Gallant

I’m up to my eyebrows in edits. I got round one back on a full length suspense novel from one editor a week before Christmas and am expecting the same on a historical from a second editor any day now. Bittersweet is scheduled to release in February, which means editing the entire book in one month! Am I a little stressed—take a wild guess. LOL

In going through the track changes on the suspense novel, it occurred to me that a little organization would have made a lot of the edits unnecessary. How many writers don’t have a few bad habits? If you just yelled, “ME! ME!” I’m guessing you’re in rarified company. My editors (I’ve worked with three so far and am about to add a fourth) have pointed out plenty of my little foibles. On my earlier manuscripts, I used lots of dialogue tags. It was gently noted that this is BORING and that action tags are a whole lot more interesting than he/she said. So, being the overcompensater that I am, I set about writing a 90,000 word novel with only a half dozen he/she saids in the entire book. What did I do instead? In the one I’m currently editing, my characters “let out a shuddering sigh.” Okay, there’s a serial killer on the loose, so a few shuddering sighs are warranted. Probably not 58 of them! (I’m guessing at the number but it can’t be far off.)

Here’s where the organization comes in. When you use phrases to describe actions, make a list. Here are few of my favorites.

Shuddering sigh
Brows beetled
Bit her lip
Touched her arm
Blah, blah, blah

I won’t bore you with the rest. Before you hit the send button on your incredibly perfect manuscript, do a word search for your list of phrases and change them up when you discover you’ve used a few on 36 occasions.

My next piece of advice on the organizational front is to make a short character sketch every time you introduce a character. This doesn’t have to be done in advance if you’re a panster, but it will save you time in the long run. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hunted through a manuscript to see what color eyes I gave a minor character. When you add a new character, it’ll also help you avoid the same letter start. If you already have a Sue and a Sally on your list, you might not want to call the next female character Sarah. Just saying. I tend to get in first letter ruts.

So, in honor of Get Organized Month, I’m determined to spend the extra minute here and there to take a few pertinent notes when I’m writing. I KNOW it will save a lot of time and energy and headaches down the road.

For more information on my current and upcoming releases, check my website at


Jerri Hines said...

Where was this advice a month ago? But I know where to find you when needed. Enjoyed it and I certainly can use the advice. Thanks.

Alison H. said...

Loved your tips, Jannine! I've found myself struggling with the very same issues - not enough to do something constructive about them, mind you, just enough to make a mental note to try to do better next time.

Vonnie Davis said...

This must be bashing forehead agaist computer -- or editing -- time for many of us. Just as I think I'm overcoming my weak areas, I find out I'm not and -- eh, gags -- I'm adding more bad habits!!! I keep telling myself the learning curve of a writer is continual. Love your ideas!!!

Lynda Bailey said...

Thanks for the tips, Jannine! I promise to make good use of them.

Best of luck to us all in the coming new year.

Jannine Gallant said...

Thanks for the comments, ladies. It is so true that the minute we get rid of one bad habit, we pick up a new one!

Judy said...

Thought-provoking post,Jannine! I have all sorts of charts I use to keep things straight--but still run into trouble occasionally with those eyes--blue or brown? hmmmmm...
Goal for 2012 is to do a whole lot better in this area!

Debra St. John said...

Hi Jannine,

Great post!

My heroes tend to raise their eyebrows a lot. I always have to go back and delete oodles of this gesture when I edit.

I love your idea of a character sketch, even for minor characters.

When I edit I tend to look for one thing at a time and then do many passes; over-used phrases one at a time, -ly words another, pronouns (my latest editor's pet peeve) another time. It makes for a lot of passes through a mss, but makes it easier to pin down specifics I'm looking for each time.

Good luck with your projects!


Jannine Gallant said...

Isn't it funny how we pick a gesture and overuse it to death? At least I pick a different one for each book!

Margo Hoornstra said...


Promise extra time spent now will save time in the long run?

Valuable tips, thank you. Hopefully I can work on incorporating them in the future.

Three editors and soon to be four? Congratulations!

Paula Martin said...

Great advice. I know my characters sigh too much, and as for my heroine's heart - it jumps, jerks, contracts, thumps, quickens, leaps etc etc so much that she's in danger of an imminent heart attack! 'Find and replace' is a great tool in Word to find all those repeat words!

Jannine Gallant said...

Isn't it the truth. Cardiac gymnastics for heroines are featured in all romances. LOL

Laura Breck said...

Jannine, I love the 58 shuddering sighs. Laughing Out Loud! I find it hard to remember which character says 'wow' all the time, which one crosses his arms all the time, which one swallows hard when nervous. Using your hints, I'm going to write these mannerisms down so when I'm on day 44 of writing a novel, I can refer to my cheat sheet. Thanks, I feel more organized already!