Written by Sarah Yoon
With developmental edits and line edits taken care of, you’re finally to the point where you don’t have to worry about big-picture plot arcs. All that’s left is detailed prose and grammar work. You’re still not to proofreading level, but considering the toil that you’ve gone through so far, the copy edit is minor. You simply need to clean up the rubble after renovation. Below, you’ll find seven ways to finalize your fiction:
Format: Aligning your manuscript to publisher preferences gives it a professional finish; the change also helps you read each paragraph with renewed attention. Since specifications differ between publishers, all you can do is research generally acceptable spacing, font, margins, and page numbers, and tweak the document later.
Flow: Now that you’re diving into the copy edit, you get to revise prose on a paragraph-by-paragraph level. Consider how sentences transition between thoughts and create cadence. If you habitually open with a subject-verb construction, the writing is very straightforward and no-nonsense. But if you open with verbal and prepositional phrases, you meander more lyrically through the scene. Make sure that each paragraph has the rhythm and flow that works best with your voice and story.
Word Choice: Examine every word and weigh its value. Is it superfluous or essential? Pretentious or plain? Cut through the webbing of prepositional phrases and awkward verb forms to find the core of each sentence. As you tighten wording, you’ll find that the meaning shines through more clearly.
Punctuation: If sentences are overly burdened with commas, causing the reader’s mind to jolt along, consider rephrasing the sentence so that it flows better. Consider which punctuation is optional, stylistic preference, or an unbendable rule. For example, do you use the oxford comma? Make sure that your choice remains consistent throughout the manuscript. If you’re finding that you don’t remember the rules exactly, now’s your time to brush up.
Spelling: English spelling can be an atrociously irregular, but thankfully you have spell check. However, don’t rely on a brainless computer to do it all for you. If you mix up similar words, like effect / affect or then / than, the computer may not catch it. So stay alert!
Grammar: Fiction manuscripts are a little more fluid and forgiving in the grammar department. Creating incomplete thoughts is a stylistic choice, not an atrocity. Especially in dialogue, vernacular depends on a character’s upbringing. All the same, the rules were designed to make communication easier. Make sure that style doesn’t turn into carelessness and keep an eye out for simple issues such as verb tense and subject-verb agreement. If you start a sentence with a plural noun or pronoun, your verb had better match up.
Chapter Titles: Whether or not you’ve already written out chapter titles, now’s the time to settle on what works. Check that they are consistent and clearly pair with the content. Instead of melodramatic teasers, be straightforward and give just enough content to keep curiosity alive. This is yet another chance for you to lock in reader interest. However, if you don’t want to bother with titles, make sure that your choice will add to the story instead of retracting from it.
Want to read more? Check out “When is it Time for an Editor?” and “Three Steps to a Sustainable & Streamlined Editing Process.”
If you need an editor, feel free to contact Sarah Yoon for rate and service details!