Writing Help – Editing

Alright, so today (I’m writing this post super early: today is 8/20/2013 on this side of the post) I’m editing RUIN. This is the first pass, which means a lot of tightening up, adding story blocks, and just fleshing out the story. I’m super frustrated with it at this point, but I can see light at the end of the construction (destruction?) tunnel. This is the point where I pull out my Editing Check Sheet. This is a check sheet that I have developed for myself putting together some important tid-bits I’ve found from other sources that I think I’m guilty of, and need to watch out for. Here is the checklist (and some explanations) if you would like to emulate it. Mind you I have drafted this sheet after young adult manuals. I’m sure the checklist with grow as I grow. Also, at the end I put “Critique Notices” these are things that you can either get from your beta readers, or things you’ve noticed that need special attention. These will change for each book, so they aren’t general notices. These notes I try to correct between the first draft and the first proof/edit so that I can get them done early on, and then spend tons of time editing.

How long do I edit? I edit my work a LOT before it goes off to the professional editor. I make several passes (five or more) to be sure I have caught all the errors that I can, and just tighten up the story. Some works don’t need as much attention, and some times the extra passes are just because I’m super anal about presentation.

Editing Check Sheet

  • Is the world built believably? For the story that you are writing is the world something the reader can really see? Is it a working world, or does it seem too generic?
  • Are speech tags simple like “said” and “asked”? Typically they don’t need to be too flowery. Stay away from using how they spoke too, like “she asked slowly,” “he asked inquisitively.” For me, when I read something, I have already read it a certain way, and telling me after I’ve read it how it was said is just trash, it’s not needed.
  • Watch out for “ing” “ly” and “as” if things can’t be done together, don’t do them together. This means if you can smile and say something easily, then don’t do it. If you can’t turn on the shower as you get into the shower, then don’t do it.
  • Perfect the first 10 words and first 10 paragraphs to captivate the reader.
  • Cut scenes that don’t build the story or characters.
  • Cut or rework boring parts.
  • Add white space. This is very effective if things are happening fast. More white space helps the reader read the part fast, and makes it seem much more high impact because they are reading with the pace of the story.
  • Is the dialogue believable? Would people really say these things? Is is revealing and not facty? People rarely speak in facts. When you are using one person to teach the other people something they should already know, you are not helping yourself or your readers. I don’t get up in the morning and spout strange things my household already knows like “the sky is blue today.” No kidding.
  • Are contractions used well? For me this goes in a lot for first person. Listen to how people talk. Do they tend to say “that is” or “that’s.” This helps with dialogue as well as when the story is narrated by the main character. Contractions make your character sound realer.
  • Avoid info dumps. This leaves the reader bogged down, maybe overwhelmed, and sometimes bored (not good).
  • Avoid semi-colons and commas, Make sentences brief. This is more for young adult so the story reads faster, and with less complexity. However, I think this one is largely unnecessary.
  • Cut out generic action. Have you been reading along and someone does something and you are sure it’s just used to stretch the scene? I think I did this a lot with the first draft of The Mirror of the Moon. Grace was taking a lot of inhales of her pipe, and a lot of pulls from her tankard of ale. Also, no one needs to continue doing something. If we have already established that mom is cooking dinner, you don’t need to throw in here and there that she continued cooking dinner. Unless you tell us that she stopped, we will just assume she is still cooking.
  • Cut facts out of high tension and make sentences and paragraphs short and fast. Forward momentum is a beautiful thing. Don’t lose it. How do we lose it? Facts. If you are in the middle of a high speed chase, you don’t want to get into details that will take our minds away from the chase. Also, as I stated above with white space, if you are in a tense moment, make sentences and paragraphs short and clipped. This makes the scene flow fast as well as increasing tension.
  • Don’t tell emotions, show them. It’s amazing when someone can express their emotions with small actions, or words. If you say “Craig was embarrassed” that’s all fine and dandy, but wouldn’t it build the character if there was a certain thing Craig did when he was embarrassed?
  • Be mindful of overused words: “smiled” “that” “laughed” “turned” “looked” and others. You will know your own overused words. When you read through you will be like “oh my GOD, there’s that word again.” Make a list of overused words and work to cut them, or replace them with something else. Also, smiling is overused I think. If people are smiling or laughing all the time, and everyone is doing it, that seems kind of generic to me. Almost like the writer can’t think of anything else for his character to do, so they add in smiling. “That’s great!” Craig smiled. Can you smile well while saying something? Does it look really dumb when you do? That’s how people are going to picture your character. Smiles are good, but often overused.
  • Write against stereotypes for secondary characters. You want people, not cookie cutters. Make them interesting. The brainless cheerleader is fine, but what if she was really not brainless?
  • Is there enough foreshadowing? I love to foreshadow, because I think it adds depth. If you don’t foreshadow an event sometimes it might seem like a big coincidence. Of course, this is a personal preference. Foreshadowing is up to you, but I really like what it does to the story and the reader. In The Revenant Wyrd Saga I have foreshadowed things in the first book that don’t happen until the last. That way it’s preparing the reader for something, but they don’t think it is that important until they read the last few pages. Take Harry Potter. JK foreshadowed like crazy, making the story seem completely interwoven.
  • If there is a slow scene try relocating the characters to a different setting. In RUIN I had a huge issue. Things were being explained too much and there wasn’t enough action. It was very facty. So, I took them out of the safe space, and put them in danger for a large portion of the first third of the book. It adds tension and helps build so much more than just the story.
  • You can show character quirks and moods by having them do things with props. Just another way of showing how they feel instead of telling. This would be part of character building.
  • Watch out for “seemed” that is an evil word. Use it sparingly. Alright, this is a big problem I find in my writing. Everything “seems” like this or “seems” like that. I ask myself: “is it, or isn’t it?” If it seems like something, why don’t you just say it. “Jovian seemed confused.” Cut it, and add in something showing that Jovian is confused. Seem is bad because it’s just filler, and it pisses me off in my writing. I overuse seem a LOT!
  • Watch out for repetition. I sometimes repeat things a lot, and that drags the story down.

Alright, that’s the short of it, or maybe the long of it. Either way, this is just a check sheet that works for me. Feel free to use what you like, and dismiss what you don’t. In time I’m sure you will notice things in your writing that just doesn’t work, and you can make your own list, as I have done, using ideas from others and some of your own creation. Feel free to leave any question you have in the comments below, and I will try my best to answer them!

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4 comments on “Writing Help – Editing
  1. Clara Bush says:

    This is a great list. You have touched on everything in a clear and precise way. May I repost on my blog with attribution to you, and direct them to your website.

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