EDITING: Making It Your Best Effort

The first draft is finished and for some (not me) the fun begins, editing and revising. Even I, who hates going back through a completed novel, realize that this is a critical step in the writing process. This is the time to find as many character problems, plot mishaps, setting detail omissions, and other flat-out screw ups as you can and fix them before submitting to your agent, editor or publisher. The following are some of the editing tips I’ve learned along the way.

General Editing Tips
· Start the story fast, and then fill in the back story later in order to grab the reader right away.
· Make sure each scene leads logically to sequels.
· Make sure the plot movement builds in intensity until the black moment.
· Avoid dumping large chunks of expository matter to explain the background of characters or situations.
· Avoid forcing too much irrelevant data acquired from research onto the reader.
· Use a basic norm for chapter length through the entire manuscript.

Point of View Editing Tips
· Avoid going into a minor character’s viewpoint.
· Only switch viewpoints when necessary, never more than once or twice in any scene if possible.
· Tell each scene through the viewpoint of the character most directly involved.

Editing Action
· Watch using excessive internalization.
· Actions alone can distance a reader, but characters need to be doing something while they speak.
· Make sure all events happen because of the main character’s actions.
· Make sure characters have adequate motivation for their actions.
· Watch for body parts performing independently of the person’s mind control.
· Do not record every step a character takes, but include only the details the reader cannot infer from reading the text.
· Remember that men and women communicate verbally, but lovers do so in a dozen other ways such as: glances, touches, smiles, gasps and sighs.
· Make sure the characters react and act true to their natures, and that what they experience is believable to the reader.
· Watch being clinical, telling the sex scene by going through a checklist of actions.

Editing Dialogue
· Keep dialogue short and sharp, avoid chit-chat.
· Remember that people cannot smile, shrug, cough or laugh words.
· Delete dialogue that neither describes a character nor advances the plot.

Editing Description
· Appeal to all of the senses whenever possible.
· Develop each scene fully by giving details of changes in time, characters and setting.

Edit Out Weak Words/Phrases
· Absolutely, actually, all, as a matter of fact
· Basically, carefully, certainly, definitely
· Fortunately, generally, hopefully, in fact, in particular
· Mainly, naturally, necessarily, needless to say
· Obviously, of course, particularly, quite, rather, really
· So-called, somewhat, totally, truly
· Unfortunately, very, whatever, whichever

Edit Out Non-descriptive Words/Phrases
· It, itself
· Now, pretty, stuff, this, that, these, thing, those
· A little, began to, I guess, I think, kind of
· Just, only, some, sort of

Edit Out Inert Verbs
· Am are, been, being
· Is, to be, was, were

Edit Overuse Of:
· Profanity, epithets, blasphemy
· Character’s favorite phrase
· Not only…but also
· Using “the” too often in a sentence or paragraph
· Exclamation points
· Beginning sentence and paragraphs with “he” or “she”
· Too many adjectives and adverbs
· To many “he said” and “she saids”
· Repetitive actions like sighing, nodding, and smiling
· Awkward sentence structure
· Too long of sentences
· Prepositional phrase strings
· Too much Italicization


snwriter52 said...

Good Morning Starla: Great blog. Rewrites and editing manuscripts takes a lot of time. A writer needs to know what to look for. Your detailed blog has given all of us a workable outline.
Thank you

Penny Rader said...

Terrific list of things to watch for and keep in mind, Starla. I love the editing and revising part. :D

There are a several good books out there to help with the process. Here are two of my faves: Getting the Words Right by Theodore Cheney and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Rox Delaney said...

Great stuff, Starla!! I'm going to need it all in a few weeks, so I'm printing it now!

Reese Mobley said...

WOW! This post was amazing. Thanks for sharing it. I'm one of the ones that likes to edit and revise as I go. When I first started writing I was told that was a no-no. I've since learned that that is my process and it's right for me. I have trouble going further if I haven't worked out the kinks. Not to say that I don't go back and tweak all along, but I have to have something fairly concrete before I can let it go. Probably why I write so slow.

Pat Davids said...

I've never seen better, more concise instructions on how to edit a novel.
What a gem this is. I’m printing it out, too.

Jeannie said...

I,too, am printing off a copy of your post. This information is invaluable to the beginning writer, as well as the old hand. I hope some of the writers who are checking this blog make use of the tips and suggestions you made. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

Nina Sipes said...

Ok, now I can officially quit writing. Once I've followed all of the self-editing rules, I have nothing left in my story but the name of the dog, some random commas, and a blue room.

Joan Vincent said...

Ditto to all the above!!! Concise, concrete, and cohesive--no wonder you can belt out so many pages so quickly with such quality. Thank you Starla, I too will print this out when I get home.