Since I started writing, I’ve been reading books on writing and editing, always in search of making myself a better writer. But like most people, I might forget some things as I write. The point is to get the story down on paper. The cleanup comes later, when revising or editing the draft comes into play.
To that end, I’ve been working on a checklist to use while editing. Things to check back on, ways to clean up my work. A checklist I’ve decided to share. This by no means is a comprehensive list. I see it evolving over time. At the bottom of the page is my sources as I most definitely am not taking credit for this.
- Remove as many could(s) as possible
- Remove as many look(s)(ing) as possible
- Remove as many sigh(s)(ing) as possible
- Remove as many starts/begins as possible
- Remove as many turn(s)(ing) as possible
- Remove as many very as possible
- Remove as many adverbs as possible
- Remove as many extra dialog tags as possible
- Remove as many had as possible (not in present moment)
Evil things to beware:
- Worthless scenes – if a scene doesn’t move the plot forward, there’s no point to it, trim the fat.
- Information dumps – spread the information out (conversations are good places). Ask yourself, “Does the reader really need to know this now or ever?”
- R.U.E – Resist the Urge to Explain
- Head Hopping – scenes should stick to one POV as much as possible
- Side note: watch descriptions – POV character can’t describe his own facial expressions unless looking in a mirror.
- Flashbacks – usually used as an info dump.
- If using one – avoid the word had.
- Try to use a sensory detail as a trigger.
- Use back flashes instead if possible – Short bursts of information about the past used within thoughts or dialog by characters.
- Too many beats in dialogue – (Beats – bits of action interspersed within scenes) – too many can be distracting
Things to do:
- Act first, explain later – start with something happening, don’t start with info dumps to catch the reader up.
- Show, don’t tell – show the reader what’s happening, don’t tell them about it.
- Mix reactions into dialog – use inner thoughts and feelings of the POV character to reveal tense emotional content below the surface of words
- Descriptions – should be through the eyes of the POV.
- Don’t describe the expressions of the POV, they can’t see their own face.
- Are the details something your character would notice? Most men don’t notice small details like color of flowers.
- Don’t forget to use all 5 sense – taste, touch, feel, hear, smell.
- Watch for repeat phrases, beats (can only arch eyebrows or scratch nose so much)
- Watch for overlong paragraphs
- Don’t use quotes (limit italics) on interior monologue
- Use ellipses for gaps (…) and dashes for interruptions (—)
- Start a new paragraph for new speakers
- Stakes – What does the character have to lose?
- Conflict – Internal or external – what drives the character forward? What pulls them back?
- Can the reader bond with the main character? Without the bond, readers won’t finish reading the story.
- Items to help forge the bond:
- Imminent Danger – keeps the reader hooked
- Hardship – creates sympathy
- Note – character shouldn’t whine about hardship nor wallow in it.
- Underdog – fights against long odds
- Likability – rebels, characters with wit, self-deprecating humor, guts, rebelliousness, dreamers, etc.
- Items to help forge the bond:
- Is the lead character active or reactive to the circumstances around them? Active = interesting. Reactive = boring and will kill the bond between character and reader. Character can start reactive, but make active quickly.
- Don’t make stereotypical – make them original (teachers (female wearing a skirt), cops (donuts), librarians (white woman with glasses on nose), etc.)
- Must have a purpose (moving the plot forward), cut all that don’t.
- Give each character an attitude & an agenda – know how they talk, where they’re from, what’s their education level.
- Every character wants something – each scene the character should have an objective.
- Look over character introductions. Give only enough detail for readers to get a picture in their head. Are you telling about characteristics that show up later in dialogue or action?
- Do personalities emerge from character actions, reactions, interior monologue, & dialogue instead of description?
- What’s the villain’s goal?
- Don’t just make them purely evil – use some sympathetic point. The best villains evoke pity as well as terror.
- Villains are justified by their actions, at least to them – know those justifications.
- Make villain a victim of his own choices.
- Villains aren’t all ugly – most use charm to get what they want.
Think Ted Bundy.
- Avoid the following clichés:
- Evil laughter
- Punishing minions
- Movie style ending/escapes for hero (leaves hero to die).
- James Scott Bell – 27 Fiction Writing Blunders and How Not to Make Them
- Renni Browne & Dave King – Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
- Rayne Hall – Word-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains
- Master Class with James Patterson