Monday, November 2, 2015

Self-Editing Checklist -- Top Ten Tips

You finished your manuscript. Yay! You're done, right? Um... not quite. Whether you're sending to a critique partner, agent or a professional editor -- no matter who your audience is once you've typed The End, self-editing can go a long way! Even after you've done all of the big-picture edits (Is my characterization consistent? What about my level of description?) a few pointed turns through your manuscript can make a huge difference.

My self-editing checklist is by no means exhaustive, but it's amazing how many of these I catch myself doing, even with multiple books under my belt!

  1. Do a search for the word "just". In 98% of cases, it can -- and should -- be eliminated.
  2. Check your character names. Make sure they don't all start with the same letter, otherwise they blend together. Also, make sure they're not odd and unpronounceable just for the sake of it. 
  3. Search for the word "nodded". Eliminate any instances of "her head/his head" that follow.
  4. Same thing with shrugged. Eliminate any instances of shoulders that follow.
  5. Pay attention to dialogue tags. Says and said are so unobtrusive, they're almost invisible. Anything else (snarled, murmured, growled, etc) should be used sparingly for impact.
  6. Laughed/grinned/smiled are not dialogue tags. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. Someone may, in fact, laugh when saying something, but the dialogue should end with a period, not a comma. For example: "I don't know what he was thinking." Anna laughed. 
  7. Pay attention to how often your characters call each other by name when speaking. In real life, people don't do this and it makes the dialogue feel forced.
  8. Beware of adverbs. Sometimes only an adverb will do. And sometimes a word substitution is all you need. She ran slowly across the field could just as easily be She jogged across the field. By the same rule, running implies speed. If your character's super fast say, She sprinted.
  9. Be aware of stage directing your characters. AKA -- describing in extreme detail every movement your character is making. It may be super important to explain, Jake turned away from the bar, glanced at the jukebox and then turned back to place his empty pint glass on the gleaming wood before shuffling towards the door. But, it feels more powerful to me to say something like, Jake left his empty pint glass on the bar and shuffled towards the door, glancing at the jukebox as he passed.
  10. Read it aloud. Grab a cup of tea/coffee/beer, put your feet up and start reading. There are programs that will do this for you, although the voices sound pretty robotic and you may miss nuances, so it helps to alternate between reading yourself and letting the robot read for you. It's tedious, but oh-so-helpful!
What would you add? What are your self-editing must's?


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I am so guilty of no. 1-7. Nice thing is with each book, I make fewer of these mistakes. I'm *just* getting smarter about stuff.

Carrie Beckort said...

Great list! For me, #1 is the word 'that' -- although 'just' is probably up there and I should start checking that one too! I think I might be bad at #2 & #3, so I'll have to add those to my list. My self-edit list includes words that I often mix up for some reason (even though I do know the difference), such as breath and breathe / awhile and a while / quite and quiet. I also do searches for where I should use commas by searching for dialogue with names and also searching certain conjunctions.

Brenda St John Brown said...

Great point! I read some of my earlier writing and see so many cringe-worthy things!

Brenda St John Brown said...

My comma use is all over the place and that's one thing I really need a copyeditor's help with. Because even though I know the rules, I'm inconsistent about how/when I actually apply them!

Brianna Lebrecht said...

I read this list on Monday, but I'm just now commenting. I love this list and feel like I should print it and hang it in my office. When my writers group went over my first chapter, which will be posted on the blog tomorrow (WOOT!), one of the ladies circled 'just' every time I used it. I was amazed at how many circles were in just one chapter (Ha! I'm breaking that rule again!). I love the say/said thing, as this was something someone else passed along a few years ago. I make sure to pay extra attention to that.

Commas are a peeve of mine- both underuse and overuse.

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