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Monday, October 7, 2013

3 Techniques to Proofread Your Story

Proofreading isn't fun, it's necessary
After I complete a story, I just want to be done. Don't you? I mean, to develop a story from mind to paper takes time and after spending a lot of it you want to kick your feet up and move on. You figure to have someone else proofread your story, since you've heard that it is better to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your manuscript.

In the beginning of my writing career, I felt that way. I figured that once I completed a story I needed someone else to look at it for proofreading. I thought that proofreading my own story was not only a waste of time, but toxic to my story's overall success. 

That is not the case. In fact, I have found that it is the complete opposite. No matter who you find to proofread your story. Even if they offer some of the best proofreading services, nothing beats you reading through your manuscript yourself for errors before you send it to a proofreader. 

Think about it. No one knows your story as well as you do. So when proofreading your own manuscript, you are more capable of finding things that should be there, but aren't, such as certain dialogue and narrative. A proofreader will only be able to correct what is there and if they are capable enough to feel something is missing in the manuscript, will they be able to correct it as well as you would? I don't think so. 

So once you hit the period button after the last word of the last sentence of your story. Please don't send it to a proofreader right after. Take the time to proofreader yourself before you do. That way you will be able to correct mistakes yourself and also you will be able to become more knowledgeable of what is actually on paper. That way when the proofreader sends your story back you will be better prepared to make the right corrections. 

Here are three techniques I use to proofread my story:

1. Print your story out on paper

Despite the fact that you wrote your story on a computer, that doesn't mean you should proofread your story on it. Give your eyes an easier time since even proofreading a short story is never a quick job. It is also harder to concentrate reading on an electronic device and with proofreading, concentration is key. Ask yourself, is it easier to stay focused on a paperback novel or an ebook?

2. Split the story up by scenes and not chapters 

This is easiest to do when you have to proofread your short story, novelette or novella since they aren't separated by chapters. When you have a novel, try splitting up your proofreading by scenes. By doing this you will be able to focus in more detail on the story itself. It will be easier to catch complex flaws such as theme, tone and pacing. Don't you hate stories that start strong and have a long boring middle? Yea? How about a story that takes a long time to reach its catalyst? Also, a yea? Then don't write one. 

3. Focus on three things at a time

You have a story that you want polished. Then focus on up to three things at a time when proofreading. It is up to you how many times you want to read through your story, but keep in mind that each time you do you will always be doing a generalized proofreading. This means you will be checking for standard errors. However, I also focus on three complex things at a time when proofreading each time I go through my story. So the first time I look at the pacing, theme and tone. The point is not to overload yourself. For instance, I like to focus on not only what is said in dialogue and narrative voice, but how it is said. I would not be able to do this if I didn't break down my story. I have found it impossible to do too much at once.

Tell me what you think and have a great one.


  1. This is extremely helpful, especially the part about not overloading yourself. Sometimes I try to do too much and just feel tired instantly with the whole thing and stop working on it because of that. You're right, break it up. Thanks!

  2. I suggest to read the entire book out loud. It will take some time, but you will hear the awkwardness in your language and voice. The ear picks up things your eyes might miss. Also, your mind slows down to read each and every word and phrase. How many times do we skim over errors because we know what's coming next? Reading out loud brings on a whole new level editing.

    1. Good point, Tanya. Reading aloud helps the writer see what is actually on paper.

    2. I use NaturalVoice, a text to speech program. It reads the words as they are and not how my mind 'sees' them even when I read aloud.
      Great article, I've never heard the breaking down chapters to scenes. Thank you.

  3. When I revise my manuscript, I examine content--scene by scene--and study characterization first. Usually, I cut about 10 to 20% of my book during that first revision. The next several times I search for typos I might have missed, tighten up dialogue (that's where reading aloud helps me), and check grammar and punctuation. I find it beneficial to go through the manuscript on the written page and the computer--and finally, in my Kindle Previewer. Seeing my novel as an e-book brings the story into clearer focus.

    Great blog post! I will pass it along...

  4. Great article, Andre.

    So far, what I do is try to find an editor at a small press who will offer me a contract for my work and do the proofreading for free. That way I know my MS is accessible to someone.

    Before I send my MS out and before I send the galleys back to the publisher, I "publish" the work as a PDF in iBooks and read it as I would read any eBook.
    Posting on a website, one's own or Authonomy, for example, is a great way to catch errors.

  5. Great post!

    Like Tanya, I also read my manuscripts aloud.

    Thank you, Andre, for the informative article.

  6. I increase the font size to 46, then 28, and this allows me to spot typos, extra spaces between words, missing quotations, etc. Then I send it off to my five sisters for their input. (And I know how lucky I am to have them!)

  7. I agree with reading aloud. I even make up different voices if I can, but I also look out for key features..repetition, terms out of place and 'have I used the best word' which could be seen as still at the creative stage. I wrote a blog a couple of years ago which might give a few more pointers. http://dianamj.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/%E2%80%98the-last-word%E2%80%99-or-%E2%80%98oh-dear-which-word%E2%80%99/ Then I give my novel to two trusted friends who can spot any little typos I've missed, however hard I've tried. Thanks for the post

  8. Re. repetitious words and phrases, one of the techniques I've used to good effect is to keep a list of my worst sins, which helps me keep in mind what not to use/repeat, and then highlight them, one term at a time, (using the 'find' command in Word) and look through every occurrence to see if I can change some of the repetitions. It's absolutely extraordinary how well this works, since even reading aloud can miss this type of problem to quite a significant extent. For example, I overused the word 'that', which is a common problem, and highlighting in red each and every occurrence made it far easier to delete the superfluous ones.

  9. Good advice. I'd always rather proofread a chapter of my work as opposed to the whole thing. Chopping the document up into chapters gives you maybe 10 to 20 thousand words to deal with, a much better chunk to see yourself doing. It's often about tricking the mind.

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