Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Final Checks

As I near completion of a manuscript, there are a few things I do that I consider quality checks. Of course spell check, although as we know it doesn't catch everything. I'll read the manuscript backwards at least twice, once when I think I'm finished, and once before I send it in, because it's the easiest way to catch typos that spell check doesn't. I also do a grammar check, although often, depending upon the voice of the piece or character, the grammar may intentionally not follow the "rules."

One other thing I also do at the halfway point, when I'm near the end, and also when I am finished writing the manuscript, is a check for word length and sentence length. Fifteen to twenty words per sentence is considered an average or good sentence length. My sentence average is 14 words per sentence. I am not sure if dashes in sentences count as words on my processing system, or if it ends up counting the sentence as two, but I feel that 14 is probably close enough to the acceptable average. My computer also tells me my longest sentence. Right now, it's 82 words. I am reading carefully to find that sentence, because it seems incredibly long to me.

I also look at average word length, although I haven't seen anything that sets out what a good average word length is. My average word length is 4 characters, although I don't know how important that is, because the computer averages long, complicated words with such words as I, if, and, or, it, he, she, and all those other common short words that appear frequently in novels.

It may seem overly analytical to double check these kinds of things, but I think it helps with readability. My premise is that the more complex the story, the more you need to work to make sure it's easy to read. I want people concentrating on my plot and subplots, not on deciphering my sentences.

I wonder if anyone else has something like this they do when they are completing a work, other than a final proofread, or if I'm just crazy-- not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

I am not quite finished Jambalaya Justice, but am nearing the end, and hopefully my quirks will pay off with a clean manuscript.

Holli Castillo


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I do some of the same things you do, and still miss stuff. My first edit though is my critique group.

Kit Sloane said...

Oh Holli, I do think you're obsessing a bit on the sentence lengths, etc. Just write one of your terrific stories. The rest (I'm not including correctly done grammar and punctuation which, of course, is a MUST), is called STYLE. In one of my books I wrote a 16 line paragraph to illustrate their frustrating day. My then publisher's editor said it was "unEditable" and left it. The long paragraph did exactly what I wanted it to do!

Readers want to read a readable, GREAT story. They're not counting...!

Words and writing are also to be played with as well as carefully written.


LauraR said...

Reading backwards, that's a good one. Because then context doesn't let your brain auto fix and skip over.

I'll use that next time someone asks me to proof their manuscript!

WS Gager said...

Great post Holli and your timing is perfect. I just finished going through the next Mitch Malone book and have a few things I need to fix and then it is those final edits which I hate. I hope going from the back will make me better...
W.S. Gager

Sunny Frazier said...

I found a book in the library I liked so much I ordered my own copy from Amazon. Self-editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print. Authors are Renni Browne and Dave King. I recommend it to newbies but I also brush up with it as I write. I skip the exercises but find the checklists helpful. Craft is more than the length of sentences and words.

Marja said...

I've never actually thought about the length of my words or sentences. sigh. Now I won't be able to NOT think about that. Interesting information, Holli. I do have one thing I should do and I sometimes forget. There was a list of overused words I found in a magazine once, and I should refer to that. It included a lot of words like "really" and "very". I do tend to overuse those, among others.

Good blog! Thank you.