Sunday, January 17, 2016


Holli Castillo
While I’m preparing the final touches on the third book in my Crescent City Mystery Series, Chocolate City Justice, for a July release, I’ve come across an old “to do” list I prepared prior to submitting the second book, Jambalaya Justice.  While some of the tips pertain to things to do before submitting a book in a series, most of the tips are also relevant to first publications and involve editing issues.

All books need to be edited.  The writer needs to self-edit as much as possible, because even the biggest publishing house and the most experienced or most expensive editor can and do miss errors.  As a writer, you know your work better than anyone else. That puts you in the best position to catch most of the errors before you submit it to an editor to catch the finer points.

So without further ado, this list contains a bare bones list of what I do before submitting the manuscript to an editor or my publisher.

1.  I make a list of the first and last names of all of the characters in the previous novels who appear in the current novel, as well as all of the new characters, and compare to make sure none of the names are too similar.  I wish I had done this with the first novel, as there are a few “S” first names of men that I may have changed if I had thought of it then.  It can get confusing to a reader to have too many names that sound alike.

2.  I run any name I’ve changed through the “find” feature on my word processor (I use Word Perfect and MS word and both have the feature) to make sure the original name doesn’t still appear in the novel.  I’ve read novels, including one from a major author from a big publishing house, where all of a sudden a name changes and then reverts back. This is the caveat to the writer being able to catch errors from knowing the work better than anyone else--it's easy to miss something like a name change, because the writer sees and accepts the character with both names.

Gumbo Justice
3.  Of course, I spell check.  Spell check pretty much only catches obvious and embarrassing spelling errors, which is a start. But it doesn’t catch homophones.  Fortunately, the brain automatically tries to make sense of what it reads.  (There are at least a dozen Facebook challenges that show this.)  So if your manuscript has “feat” when it should have “feet,” most brains won’t even notice if “feet” is the word that makes sense in the context of the sentence and story.  But inevitably you will find a reader whose brain does distinguish it, after the writer, the editor, and spell check didn’t. So spell check, but don’t stop there.

4.  I use the “find” feature to run “their” “there” and “they’re.”  I make sure that I’ve used each one correctly, because I type fast and sometimes the wrong form makes it to the page.

Orleans Parish D.A.'s Office
5.  I run all the curse words in the “find” feature and count how many times they’ve been used. For a PG rating in a movie, the “F” word can only be used once.  There really is no standard set for novels, so I have to use my own judgment for each individual curse word.

My books are gritty, set in New Orleans and revolve around a prosecutor and her family of cops, as well the cops she comes into contact with, the criminals she prosecutes, and the defense attorneys. 

The trick is to keep it realistic, without the reality overwhelming the readers who aren’t in a courtroom dealing with criminals all day and aren’t out on the street arresting the bad guys for a living.  So initially I write the dialog the way it would be spoken in real life, with all the “F” bombs, and then I trim, and use the rated R language where it would have the greatest effect for the situation and the character.  It’s a balancing act, trust me.  My experience as a former prosecutor dictates that most readers would grow uncomfortable with the amount of cursing prosecutors, cops, and criminals actually do in New Orleans.

Orleans Parish Criminal Courthouse
6.  I run a check in the “find” feature for adverbs and adjectives that I know I personally tend to overuse.  Then I run common adverbs and adjectives, such as really, very, completely, pretty, etc., to make sure none materialized when I wasn’t paying attention.

7.  I run a properties check on the whole document and on each page.  On word perfect, there is a wealth of information on this tool, including average word length, average sentence length, and maximum sentence length.  This is important to keep my style consistent.  I like quick paced and sharp, to the point. My plots are a little complicated, so my wording and sentence structure can’t be. My goal is to keep the reader reading, and not have them stop to think about a sentence that may be too long.

8.  I read the novel backwards as a whole, and then I read each page backwards individually.  If you’ve never done it, you would be surprised at how many errors you can catch by doing this.  When you’re reading backwards, your brain isn't reading in context and it can’t correct what it reads, such as gloss over a comma that's supposed to be a period, etc.

9th Ward setting for Chocolate City Justice
9.  I put the novel away for a few days or a week and don’t look at it or think about it during that time. When I pull it out after that short break, I print it out, highlighter handy.  I highlight things I want to change, any errors I find, inconsistencies, whatever I’m not happy with. I don’t stop to correct it then, but do a complete reading of the whole novel, marking it up on my own and correct only after I’ve read the entire thing.

10.  After I do the new corrections, I give a printed copy to a few trusted readers, people who have read for me in the past and will mark up their copy for me and give it back.  I may ask one or two to look only for typos, and the others to read for story content, to make sure all of the storylines are resolved and the questions are all answered, and that the plot and everything that happens in the story are believable.  I recommend dividing the chores of the readers, because most people automatically read for content, which lends itself to glossing over typos or other errors not related to the story.
Hubby Julio Castillo

I also give it to my husband to read to double check my street lingo because he’s way more "street" than I am and will make suggestions as to dialog of the bad guys.

Added bonus- I use the tools of my word processor.  Different programs and now different apps have different tools available that may help writers with the editing process.  My biggest suggestion is to know what features are available on whatever program you use to write, and use those features to your advantage as much as possible.  

Holli Castillo is the award-winning author of the Crescent City Mystery Series, Gumbo Justice and Jambalaya Justice.  The third in the series, Chocolate City Justice, is schedule for release July, 2016.  She is also an award-winning screenwriter and executive director of Bad Wolf Productions New Orleans, and the creator of the Bad Wolf Productions Indie Short Film Festival, which takes place in New Orleans in February.  She is a Louisiana appellate public defender and former New Orleans prosecutor.


John M. Wills said...

Good post, Holli, I learned something new. BTW, how do I post on the blog site? I'm up next month and would like to set one ahead of time.

WS Gager said...

Great post! I could write all day but hate editing. A necessary evil.

JL Greger said...

Wow, what a long list of editing tricks. thanks
author of thrillers I SAW YOU IN BEIRUT

Amy Bennett said...

I'm glad to see that I use most of these tips already and they really do help! Great advice and terrific post!

Beryl Reichenberg said...

Thanks for the list, Holli. I particularly like your suggestion to make sure the character names aren't too similar. I sometimes have trouble keeping characters straight and don't like to read books with too many characters. Maybe that is why I have trouble with Russian novels.

Holli Castillo said...

I agree that writing is definitely the easier of the two. And even if you have an editor you need to self edit first, so it's the part of writing that isn't fun.

Holli Castillo said...

I hope you found something you can use. I just wish someone would find a way to make editing more fun.

Holli Castillo said...

My sister usually catches when my names are too similar when I don't--she'll complain that she kept getting the characters mixed up and usually it's an issue with my names.

Holli Castillo said...

Amy, thanks--editing is so important and so many writers overlook it. I bet you submit clean manuscripts, which I know publishers love.

Holli Castillo said...

Sorry for the seemingly schizophrenic comments--I posted from phone, each comment in response to the other comments in order, and on my phone each response appears to be in the right spot, beneath the comment I'm commenting on. Lesson learned--don't post comments on a blog from a phone again. If you pair the comments in order, skipping John because I think the response I did to him disappeared, they actually make sense.