Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pernickety Edit - jump in!

Great idea from SS@S - I'm posting my editing checklist here. This is the general version, if I'm writing in dialect I have a few more things I need to check, but this is the one I go through pretty much all the time. I'm more guilty of some things than others - to take the first list of non-words, for example, I don't think I ever use ''quite", but all my manuscripts are scattered with "just"!

If you have a similar list, please post it in the comments, or let me know if there is anything you think is missing, then I'll try and put together a version that combines everything. Or, if you strongly disagree with anything, I'd be interested in knowing that too. NB - some of these words and phrases are essential at times - don't take 'em out if it don't make sense or it really is the best option - on the other hand, coming up with alternatives for your own 'automatic drive' can liven up your writing - and cut literally thousands of words of unnecessary padding out of your writing.

Here goes...

Delete that and very! Strip out: really, all, big, little, small, many, some, here, a lot, just, quite, yes, no, a bit, now, maybe.

Take ‘suddenly’ out of all narrative; and ‘for a moment’ everywhere.

Waste of space: especially, however, probably, thankfully, so, of course, in fact, anyway (as a transition rather than a modifier), rather, somewhat, all too often, after all, only, obviously, usually, at least, even so, no idea, for some reason.

Beware of words that don't mean much: seem/ed to be, appear/ed to be, really, actually, keep/kept on, almost, have/had to, go and/went and, used to, finally, eventually. Use punchier verbs.

Watch for ‘something’, ‘everything’ and ‘thing’!

Delete ‘was’/’is’ ‘were’/’are’ and replace with a strong action verb.

Delete adverbs –ly – use very sparingly.

Drop parentheses and excessive ellipses (…)

Close third person - watch out for verbs that distance the POV from close third person – viewpoint intrusion - e.g. ‘hear’/’heard’, ‘see’/’saw’, ‘notice’/’noticed’, ‘look’/’looked’ – ‘feel/felt’ – ‘watch/watched’ look out for ‘could’ – it often signals these. i.e. not ‘I could see the clouds…’ but ‘The clouds…’ NB also – ‘She looked sad’ – why? Better to show this – ‘tears glinted in her eyes’ etc.

Close third person again - also watch out for ‘thought’ – it may not be necessary. Use only if confusing. Report thoughts as if in the first person – use the character’s voice/tone etc. to make it clear that they are thoughts. (e.g. whiney, if a whine!) Also: realised, decided, supposed, remembered, contemplated, mused, guessed, imagined, figured, reckoned etc. Similarly ‘wondered’ (try turning the thought into a question).

Telling instead of showing: look out for ‘like’, ‘as if’ and ‘seemed’ i.e. ‘the puppy seemed afraid’ – show it ‘the puppy quivered in his arms’

Delete ‘began’, ‘started’, ‘was starting’, ‘was beginning’, ‘going to’ unless essential – distances from the action e.g. ‘she began to do s’th’ – just have her do it!

Are all five senses in use? (colour code description according to sense to check the balance).

Go back and delete all clich├ęs.

Look out for –ing words – e.g. is someone locking the door while sprinting? Is it possible?! Check all very carefully.

Proofread for repeated words – e.g. stop/stopped.

Delete ‘he said’ ‘she said’ as far as possible. Show who is speaking via action instead.

There was, there is, there are, there were, it was, it is are often superfluous. Toss them if you can.

F&R while and as if they make dialogue tags work overtime – e.g. Not: ‘Are you coming?’ said Jennifer as she climbed the fence, but: Jennifer swung a leg over the fence. ‘Are you coming?’

Also dialog, ‘No,’ Jim said, rather than ‘No,’ said Jim.

Watch for too many sentences starting with ‘he’/’she’/’they’ and repeated names.

F&R double spaces.


sex scenes at starbucks said...

I find I made a leap in writing when I started to avoid a lot of these during drafting. (Not all of course - I believe in placeholders in first drafts and nobody's perfect. Not even me.) But strong writing and sentence structure reframes scenes from the start, helps you cut down on the unnecessary bigger issues, like backstory.

I'm going to print this list and add it to mine.

My biggest infraction? Looking, gazing, staring, glancing, and all variations thereof.

Robin S. said...

i use the wrod 'there' too much. Sometimes it's good; shows the speech patterns of the region I'm from. Sometimes it's a word that needs excising.

writtenwyrdd said...

Great list. I would also add that you should look for paragraphs that start with the same word or structure that are adjacent, whether on the same page or not.

McKoala said...

Agreed, o coffee-swilling-hanky-panky. After running through this list as an edit several times, I find I am now just not writing in a lot of these issues. However, some of them I just can't help - they're like my own toes.

For example, how many 'justs' in this comment already? Only two - that's good for me!

Do you have anything to add to the list?

Robin - 'There' annoys me - but sometimes I just can't get rid of it!

Written, actually I do - for some reason it's not on the list, though. It's one of the last things I check - just a quick run through of the pages before I print.

Chris Eldin said...

Ahhh... the close 3rd POV. I love thee and hate thee. Mostly love.

I like to do that wordle thing (you know, that site that makes word clouds) for each chapter to see if I'm relying too heavily on certain words. Plus it's pretty.

Chris Eldin said...

EXCELLENT book recommendation: Jon Franklin's "Writing for Story." I will just say right now that I thought Noah Lukeman's first five pages was the biggest waste of money spent on a book. It was Stewpid, just full of stewpidiity.

But Franklin is a two time Pulitzer winner, and he writes dramatic non-fiction. Takes two short stories and breaks them down. Gives practical advice and many examples. It's a book for writers who know how to write, and want to reach the next level.

McKoala said...

Word clouds - great idea!

pacatrue said...

I have no such list, but I might steal yours.

Sarah Laurenson said...


Awesome list.