Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Guest Post: Edit Until It Hurts by J.L. Greger

I am fortunate to be able to claim Dr. Janet L. Greger as colleague (we both publish with Oak Tree Press) and friend. Janet is smart, droll, witty, and a great person to have as a dinner partner. She is uniquely qualified to write medical thrillers, and I am so happy to host her again today to share how she gets her books ready for print.You can read an earlier post by Janet about diets here.

My thriller Malignancy appeared this month. That means I’ve spent much of the last five months editing the adventures of my heroine epidemiologist Sara Almquist as she tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a precarious assignment in Cuba. I guess all Sara’s risky behaviors put me in the mood to be foolish enough to share my editing checklist.

My basic mantra when editing my novels is: edit until it hurts.

The day after I write a chapter, I do a “find and replace mission” that includes the following steps.
1.     Eliminate overused words. My overused words are: that, just, very, really, still, some, perhaps, maybe, and since. Yours may be different. I think the “Find” option in the Window’s Edit list is my best friend during this process.
2.     Convert sentences from a passive into an active voice.
3.     Replace weak verbs with action verbs.
4.     Change run on sentences spliced with a comma into two sentences or one sentence spliced appropriately.
5.     Find “-ing” words and evaluate their usage.
6.     Look for common misspellings missed by Word, such as form for from. 
This process is a humbling experience and keeps me from rhapsodizing about my “beautiful prose.”

After I’ve complete the first draft of the whole novel, I look for gaps in logic.
I start with the easiest task first. I reduce the number of named characters. Any name, mentioned less than ten times in a manuscript, I delete completely or at least eliminate the character’s name. Now I’m a bit contrary on this point. Some authors reduce the number of named characters in their books so much, I know who the villain is after the first thirty pages because he or she is the only extraneous named character. In other words, I like a few “red herrings” in my books.

I check time sequences. I can’t be the only author who discovers Character A knows something before it occurs. At this point, I often delay or reduce clues to sharpen the suspense in my thrillers.

I repeat the find and replace mission (mentioned above) because gremlins creep in and reinsert problems in my writing.

As I do second, third, and fourth edits of the novel, I look at manuscript in different ways. My dog Bug thinks I’m being strange when I read dialog out loud, but it helps me smooth out conversations.

After I think the manuscript looks pretty good, I print it out. I always find hundreds of points that I didn’t notice on the computer screen.

Next I send the manuscript to a professional editor. Then I pray that together we’ll catch all the errors, but know I’ll probably catch more errors when I really the galley for my novel. Somehow errors not obvious in my typed manuscript glare at me from the printed galley.

Now it’s your turn. What do you look for when editing your work? I hope you’ll read Malignancy, and find I did a good job of editing it.

Blurb for Malignancy: Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The real police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who has tangled with Sara before, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia. Maybe, she should question their motives.

Malignancy is available from Amazon: http://amzn.com/1610091779 and Oak Tree Press: pressdept@oaktreebooks.com.

Bio: As a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I honed my story-telling skills as I lectured on metabolic pathways to bleary-eyed students at 8:30 in the morning. Students remember chemical reactions better when the instructor attaches stories to the processes. 

Now I have two great passions – my Japanese Chin dog, Bug, and travel. I’ve included both in my novels. You can learn more about me at my website: www.jlgreger.com and blog (JL Greger’s Bugs): www.jlgreger.com. I also answer question directed to: JLGreger@oaktreebooks.com


  1. Sharon, thanks for the kind comments and for hosting me. I know editing is a dull topic, but the lack of it can really kill a book. I hope I added some humor and gave useful advice.

    1. Janet, it is always a pleasure to have you visit. I hope you'll come back with more interesting posts!

  2. I better a lot of readers have even better editing suggestions. Maybe they'll share them.

    1. That's a great challenge you threw out! Okay, readers, what's your best editing tip?

  3. Thanks for sharing your tips. As an emerging author, I'm learning from the veterans as much as from experiencing the process. However, as a writer, I'm not a newbie. I also write and edit client newsletters and business plans. I edit in phases, starting with content, clarity and finishing with correctness. Of course, fiction has so many added layers with suspense, characters, setting, dialog, plot and all lends to the credibility of the story. My best tip so far--hire a professional editor!

  4. Charli, of course, after you do all things I suggest you need to have a professional editor work on your novel. But an editor, can get overwhelmed by your mistakes if you don't clean up the manuscript first.