Editing Checklist

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.

Basics:

  • 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.

Mechanics:

  • 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

Characters:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Minor Characters:

  • 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.

Character Info:

  • 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?

Villains:

  • 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).

Bibliography:

  1. James Scott Bell – 27 Fiction Writing Blunders and How Not to Make Them
  2. Renni Browne & Dave King – Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
  3. Rayne Hall – Word-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains
  4. Master Class with James Patterson
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