What in the Heck is a Content Edit?

And why do I need one?

My Dear Hubby ruptured a disk in his neck ten or so years ago.  After his pinky finger went completely numb this weekend, he decided to address his literal pain in the neck.  The kind doctor prescribed steroids to alleviate swelling and a muscle relaxer to…well…relax his ever-so-tight muscles.

 We parted ways after lunch.  Sometime later DH sent me this text:

“I took some z-PAC pills and one mule relaxer pill a half ago.”

I immediately offered to pick him up from work—he said he was so dizzy he couldn’t focus.  Obviously. 

His response: “Why!  Work is way more fun when I’m desirous.”

Hmmmm. Besides the great belly laugh, I also got a mini writing lesson out of his words.

Don’t forget to content edit. 

 A copy edit is one that simply checks grammar, spelling and those pesky typos—mule pills a half ago?  At times our work can be technically correct—a desirous work atmosphere—yet make no real-world sense.  This is where the content edit comes in.

 So what exactly is a content edit?

 It’s a check for inconsistencies.

  • Does your MC answer to Jack on the first page and Jeremy on page 78?
  • Did Jasmine enter the scene in a blue sweater and exit wearing a green jacket?
  • How in the heck did Sandy wake up from a dream when she never went to bed?  Or eat dinner in the middle of the night? 
  • Is it still raining four hours later, yet Candace walks in from her walk as dry as a newly diapered baby bottom?
  • Did Frank age ten years or get younger with each page turn?
  • Does Harry flush his toilet on the Dakota plains in 1910?
  • When did bubbly Hannah turn into a crass ogre?

 These are all examples of content editing.  And nothing pulls readers out of a story quicker than inconsistencies and untruths.

What are some of your favorite inconsistencies either in your writing or in books you’ve read?   Don’t be shy.  We’ve all made some whoppers at some point!

I once had a great opening line for the first day of summer only to have my MC get ready for the first day of school one chapter later.


23 responses to “What in the Heck is a Content Edit?

  1. My good friend and beta reader pointed out to me that Paul ordered a pastrami sandwich and was eating a corned beef sandwich. He’s Jewish, so it was a very big deal to him.

    • Perfect example, Pete. And it’s so easy to do. As they say, the devil is in the details. I think that’s why having a fresh set of eyes take a peek at our work is so important.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’ve had to keep notes as I’m writing about time frames, etc., because if I haven’t been writing everyday, I can lose track of where we are in the scenes.

    Sometimes I have to scroll backwards pages and pages to figure this out! Not fun….

    BTW…can someone tell me how to find a beta reader? Are there groups somewhere online?

    • Do you use a notebook or keep these notes on your computer? My problem is that I lose my notes!

      Don’t worry, I don’t write every day either. I do the best I can and that seems to be working out all right.

      Beta readers or crit readers can be hard to find. I’ve found mine at writer’s conferences and at Agent Query. If you haven’t checked this site out yet, it’s a must. Very informative and a great community. There are always writers looking to share their journeys.

      Best luck and hope to see you over there!

  3. Lol, I’ve caught some of these in published novels (including my own!). This is a really good point to make because little things like this are easy to overlook.

    I hope your hubby feels better soon! Consider checking out a chiropractor. It’ll fix the problem!

    • He started physical therapy today. We’ll see how that goes. Thanks so much for your warm thoughts!

      Those little errors can be buggers. They seem to pop out of nowhere, and when you find them, it’s like “how could I have missed something so danged obvious?!?!?”

  4. Great points!
    I could use a check list on this. 🙂

    I caught a Marvin/Martin switch in my manuscript yesterday!

    Also, who’s saying what… I’ve done that where it doesn’t make sense, or I messed up who’s giving what line. 🙂

    • Love the Marvin/Martin thing and this next comment will make you laugh.

      My WIP has both a Marvin and a Martin in it! I think there’s something to this karma thing we have going.

      Hopefully it means your lucky debut picture book will mean mine is soon to follow!


      PS. did you get my email? I sent it yesterday, but people have been saying they haven’t gotten all mine from my phone. Wondering if there’s some trouble a brewin’ with it.

  5. I once had a 36 hour day. >_<

  6. I can only imagine how much harder that internal consistency gets when you have a multi-volume series! I read in one series where a character had fairy blood on her mother’s side. A few books later, it was on her FATHER’S side. Ooops . . .

    I’m sure I have plenty of these myself, just can’t remember any at the moment.

    • Don’t remind me. I will have to go over my first books with a fine tooth comb when I finally get crackin’ on the other books in the series. Thankfully they are only chapter books. Not nearly as detail heavy as a novel.

      I shudder to think of keeping all those nitpicks in line!

      *note to self, create a good spreadsheet*

  7. What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by and for subscribing. I hope I continue to have things to say that will help you on your journey.

      I’m glad you found this post helpful. I think we often forget that editing is so much more than a simple check for typos. My guess is that is a big reason why manuscripts are rejected. We simply haven’t paid enough attention to the content of our manuscripts and send them off before they are really ready.

      I appreciate your comments and hope to see you around!

  8. I had my character wearing slacks at the beginning of a scene, and a skirt at the end (and no, she didn’t have time to go home and change). And of course, I’ve had the inevitable “two dinners in one day” error. I’ve also morphed my hero’s pickup truck into an SUV between getting into it and arriving at his driveway. Thank goodness for sharp-eyed editors and crit partners. I’ve learned to keep track of days of the week, and even time of day as I write now.

    Terry’s Place
    Romance with a Twist–of Mystery

    • Terry,

      Thanks so much for your wonderful examples. I love the two dinners and the morphing vehicle. It’s so fun to see where are writing takes us! I have a novel that takes place over nine weeks of summer in which my MC writes postcards home. I literally got 28 postcards and wrote my messages on them just to make sure I used them all the right way.

      This writing gig can be complicated!


  9. If you want to get really, really good at keeping content details straight, I highly recommend picking a fandom and posting some fanfic for that show — make it a series, the more complex the better.

    I guarantee you’ll start getting nitpicks like “You mentioned in your story ‘Spring’ that Bill was born on a Tuesday, but in your story ‘Hello Kitty’ you mentioned that Bill’s birthday is October 2nd, and as we all know, October 2nd only falls on a Tuesday during leap years where January 1st is a Monday, which means he’s got to be twenty-six years old in your story, only you say he’s nine.”

    Or, “Joe always wears blue socks. Just to be sure, I re-watched all hundred and four episodes in which he appears, and he’s never wearing white socks.”

    Get slammed with comments like that for a couple of years and you’ll be stunned, stunned I tell you, at the way your brain suddenly develops an insatiable desire to double-check every single detail in everything you write.

    • I bet there is nothing more humbling, frustrating and educational than having your writing nitpicked by readers. So, how do you keep everything straight?

      Thanks for your great examples. I think it’s often the little things that trip us up. The details we think are only important as a one shot deal that end up pulling readers out of the moment later on.

      Hugs and much appreciation for stopping by and commenting.

      • Honestly, after you get nit-picked often enough, you start “looking over your shoulder” literarily and you hear those voices in your head: “You just said her shoes are black — are they really?” and you begin taking note of them.

        I also find that the more I love the character, the more I pay attention to their details, kind of the way you pay attention to what your boyfriend likes when you first start dating.

        That’s a short way of saying no, I don’t have a systematic way of keeping track of details, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a truly awful detail gaffe.

      • I’ve never thought about it that way–the more you love the character, the more you pay attention to the details. That’s a great observation.

        Funny how we can read and write our whole lives and still not know anything about the process of either!


  10. My favorite one is my characters went into a building in the morning and after a conversation, walked out into the cold dark ‘night’…sheesh!

    • Raquel, that is great! I love when I find those things in my writing. It’s almost like our brains are so much further ahead than our fingers and between the two we get all tripped up!

      Hope your MC’s day returned to normal : )

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  11. Pingback: Nicole Murchadha » Blog Archive » The Writers on Writing Weekly – April 15, 2011 Edition

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