by Leora

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So you've finally written that last line. The pages are done, the variables are lined up, and you're anxious to hit that publish button. Everything seems to be in place. Yet there is one thing you've yet to do, something absolutely vital. Proofread. It's important that you give your work one last read-through. After all, if you don't tear your hard work apart, the comment section is bound to do it for you. "But how am I supposed to do that?" you didn't ask but I'm pretending you did. Well, here's how!

Step 1: Spelling and Grammar

The first step should be relatively easy, especially if you spell check your pages as you write them. Ideally this should be just one last scan for any little things you might have missed. If you haven't been editing as you go, it may take a bit longer. Run it through Spell check and get rid of those annoying squiggly lines. Once that's done, you'll need to look a little closer. Knock out those extra commas and capitalize those sentences. There are quite a few things that the red lines tend to miss, and several grammatical mistakes that can leave readers confused:
  • Homophones: One issue with spell check is that if a word is in the dictionary, it counts. That means it won't tell you if you write "24 carrot gold" instead of "24 carat gold". Unless your story is about billionaire bunnies, that probably isn't what you're going for. There are many words that sound the same, but are spelled completely different and mean completely different things. The most common ones missed homonyms I've seen include: "two/to/ too", your/you're", "affect/effect". "then/than", "hear/here", "which/witch", "there/they're/their", "complement/compliment" and "it's/its". If you're not sure that you used the right word, be sure to look up the definition.

  • POV Changes: This is one of the most frequent and most infuriating of grammatical errors. As story can work from any point of view. It can be viewed through the lense of the main character using pronouns such as "I" and "We" (First Person). It can be told from the reader's perspective using "You" (Second Person- the most common in CYOAs) or from outside the story referring to all of the characters as "He", "She", "They", etc. (Third Person). Any of these will work, but you have to pick ONE. If you say "Jimmy was brushing his teeth" and then suddenly switch to "I spit out the toothpaste in disgust" to "You never could stand the bubblegum flavor" it's going to confuse people. Look at the pronouns you're using for each character. If they don't match up the whole way through, change them.

  • Tense Changes: Similar to the POV, tense is something that generally needs to stay the same throughout a story. There are a few exceptions to this- you can use past tense while describing a flashback, or future tense while reciting a prophecy. In general though, watch out for sudden shifts in language. Most stories are written in either past or present tense. Jumping between the two is an easy mistake to make, so be on guard.

Step Two: Read the Story Aloud

I know, I know, this takes forever. However, it is definitely worth it. Many awkward sentences go completely unnoticed until somebody decides to read them out loud. As you hear yourself speak, you can identify any odd-sounding phrases you may have missed. You may even catch a few more little things you missed in step one. Another great way to spot mistakes is to read your page backwards. This forces your brain to focus on each word, disregarding the flow your brain gets into when reading your own work. If you REALLY want to go in depth, there are a few more ways to trick your brain into spotting things:
  • Print out your pages. It's been proven that errors on a physical page are easier to spot.

  • Turn it upside down. Much like reading backwards, this forces your brain to focus on and interpret each individual word.

  • Take a red pen to it. If you have printed copies, nothing beats good old-fashioned teacher mode.

Step Three: Let it Rest

Read and edit a few pages, then take a little break. Go play a game, watch a youtube video, or eat a snack. When you come back you'll be able to look over those pages again with fresh eyes. Just like with writer's block, your brain will get worn out if you try to focus on one thing for too long. You'll begin to rush and skip through things. Giving yourself time to breath will result in a better product every time. (And no, I don't mean procrastinate for days on end you lazy readers.)

Step Four: Get a Second Opinion

Have someone read over your work, at least sections of it. They'll often be able to find things you would never have thought of. If you don't have friends or family members to show your writing to, feel free to post in the Writing Workshop. Ask for a beta reader, or just post a few pages for some general ideas and feedback. There are plenty of Cystians who love to criticize new stories!

Step Five: Publish

You're done! Until someone spots what you missed and leaves it in the comments of course. But for now you can sit back, relax, and manically hit the refresh button to check your reviews.