Clarify and Clean It Up

I am deep in the editing process of Clock Shop Mystery Book #2, which is due next week. I am in the clarify and clean it up phase of the editing process.

Clarifying is just that–does the narrative make sense? Since I write mysteries, my readers need to be kept in the dark a bit, otherwise it isn’t a mystery. That said, there is a difference between red herrings (good) and confusion (bad). Some of the clarifying I am working on includes:

  • Making sure to give enough context for local idioms so that anyone understands them. Local phrases help place the story in specific settings, but if I use the term “wicked” I need it to be clear in the sentence that I mean “excellent”.
  • Adding conversation tags. In my brain, it is always clear when Nancy is speaking as opposed to Ben as opposed to Pat. But for the reader, it is often confusing, especially if three people are having a conversation. So add tags–let folks know who is speaking.
  • Bringing the reader along with me. If I mention that Ruth likes baked goods, I need to have her eat baked goods a few times. Maybe at some point she turns down a cookie. That is out of the norm, and could be a clue to the reader that she is upset, doesn’t like the person, or is on a diet. Not the best example, but you get the drift. If you set something up, use it, and let it pay off for the reader.

After the clarifying work, I clean it up. During this phrase, I don’t read, I look at the words. Reading them sucks me into the story. Looking at them helps me clean it up. This includes:

  • Watching out for repetition. In one paragraph, I used the word “nothing” three times. Do I remember doing it? No, of course not. Now I only use it once. You’d be surprised how many times I have duplicate words circled in my manuscript. Always remember, your thesaurus is your friend.
  • Do a word search on your bad writing habits. An example, I use the word “just” a lot. Most (possibly all) of them will be exorcised before the final draft. You’ll notice them as you are reading the manuscript through. Keep a list, and then find and replace.
  • I also start sentences with “And” more often than is healthy for a manuscript. Got to fix those.
  • Make sure all the names and places are spelled and used consistently. Does River Street turn into River Road mid-novel?

Don’t rush the clarifying and cleaning up part of the editing process. I don’t find this process particularly enjoyable, but I do find it satisfying.

Now, back at it!


J.A. Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The first book, Just Killing Time, will be out in October.

22 thoughts on “Clarify and Clean It Up

  1. Nice summary of the process. Glad to hear how someone else works – I do just about the same! Also write with too many ‘justs’ and ‘And’ sentence starters and have to dig them back out!

  2. Excellent advice on not re-reading your manuscript when cleaning up. I always re-read everything a couple of time and it usually gets rewritten in the process.

  3. Are you doing the editing all on your own? I have a wonderful editor who helps me with mine. When I edit, my manuscript goes back and forth between us until I get a manuscript that I feel is worthy of flogging to a publisher. Since this is my first novel, I’ll probably have to self publish. Who do you publish with?

    • I have a first reader who helps me with story, and then a friend who edits. I am being published by Berkley Prime Crime, so the next step for me is my editor at Berkley, who is terrific. I am just trying to not send her a mess of a manuscript. Much more fun if we are working on story together.

      You can always choose to self pub, but there are lots of paths to publication. What type of book are you writing?

      • I’m writing a thriller. The novel title is “Becoming Ruby”. I have a wonderful editor as well and together we’re trying to have it ready for publishing by the fall. But this is my first novel so I doubt that any publisher will take a chance on me so I’ll probably have to go the self publishing route – at least this time. I’ve already got my next novel ideas marinating. Here’s my blog site
        I have a little blurb on my novel as well as other short stories. Too bad I’m not getting much traffic on the site. Thanks for sharing your publisher with me.

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