Writing Tips - Chapter 5 - Copy Edit

Writing Tips - Chapter 5 - Copy Edit

Now that you're sure all of the scenes are essential and the story works, it's time to do a copy edit. A copy edit is editing at sentence level, everything from typos and common misspellings that won't show up in red (ie "were" instead of "where", or "there" instead of "their" etc) right through all the rules you were taught in school and have since forgotten. I'm talking... (deep breath...) Grammar!

Breaking the rules of grammar

The good thing about creative writing is you can bend and break the rules in places. You can start a sentence with "And" or "But", and you can use phrases instead of full sentences. You can have single word paragraphs - a single word chapter if it suits. But take care. In order to break the rules, you need to know the rules. At this point, I'd strongly advise buying a text book on writing English. 

Having said that, you need to be realistic: basic rules, such as clauses and commas, question marks and full stops are essential. Semi colons are fun too; I very rarely use them myself. But all of the technical jargon, being able to spot a modal verb or the subjunctive form - it isn't important. I'm a bit of a grammar nerd and kind of like that stuff, but I don't rely on it to write a story.

Point of view

1st Person - I walked along the road.
2nd Person - You walked along the road. 
3rd Person  - He walked along the road. 

Check that your story is consistent and you stick to the one you're meant to be using. I've just written a novel that was originally in 3rd, then I switched to 1st to finish it (just to see how it felt) and ended up settling back on 3rd - which mean the point of view bounced about and had to be cleaned up. I think I've got them all, but odd instances can very easily be overlooked. 

In telling a story, point of view goes deeper than this - it isn't just about keeping to 'he said' vs 'I said'

When writing a story in 1st person, you only only tell the reader what that person can see - that just makes sense. 


I knocked on the door. I could hear breathing behind and immediately withdrew.

Woahh, creepy, right? It wouldn't be quite as effective if you wrote:

I knocked on the door. There was an old woman on the other side that I could easily have mistaken for a monster.

Rubbish. You've lost all the atmosphere. So a rule of 1st person narrative is, you show what you can see.

In 3rd person, it's exactly the same. This is called 3rd person limited, because it's limited to one person's point of view but told in the 3rd person. Imagine you are a camera floating behind your main character's head and tell the story that way. If you only show what that person can see and hear and experience, you'll have it nailed.


Most people write in the past tense - He walked to the door. But it's quite popular to write in the present tense - He is walking to the door. 

Both have their merits but past is usually easier for the reader, and easier for the writer too. Writing in present tense takes a good deal of control because it's very easy to slip into the past tense (because this is more natural). Whichever you have chosen, the copy edit is your opportunity to make sure you haven't slipped from one to the other.

Recap of the journey so far

You've plotted and planned to save time writing scenes you don't need. You've done a structural edit to make the story flow and a copy edit to make the words shine. The book is perfect, yeah?

It's time to pitch it out. Time to send to an agent or a publisher.

Woah, wait a second... Don't I only get one chance at this?

Well, yeah. That's why you've done all the hard work. However, there are other options open to you before you contact an agent. The next chapter covers a few detours and diversions.

Colin Mulhern

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