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Editing tips

I found this list of editing tips on a website. Not sure I agree with all of them, but I wonder what other people think:

  1. Format to industry standards (simple font, traditional spacing and margins, name/title/page number in the header of every page).
  2. Read aloud for sentences that flow well and convincing dialogue.
  3. Jump right in: Delete any “warm-up” paragraphs that stall the main action.
  4. Scrap unnecessarily fancy words.
  5. Delete repetitive language (i.e., she muttered softly, he shouted loudly).
  6. Cut adverbs.
  7. Swap weak verbs for strong ones.
  8. Rearrange sentences that start with “it” or “that.”
  9. Convert passive sentences to active sentences.
  10. Be suspicious of sentences that start with participles or gerunds.
  11. Reword sentences that ramble.
  12. Cut long sentences in half.
  13. Find and replace words that you overuse.
  14. Streamline bulky stage directions.
  15. Toss out unnecessary blocking—stage directions or descriptions of actions that could be quickly summarized.
  16. Watch for “empty” character responses (i.e., she said nothing or he didn’t reply).
  17. Check description for word choices that convey shifting moods so that the mood of each scene is unique.
  18. Trim description to your very best lines or phrases—and delete the rest.
  19. Delete your paragraph “topic sentences” that “explain” what is already being shown. For example: She was mad. Her face turned red and she crossed her arms.
  20. Rewrite narrative clichés (though you may want to hang on to colloquialisms for characters’ words and thoughts).
  21. Show, don’t tell.
  22. Delete unnecessary attributions. There’s no need to write “he said” if we already know he’s talking.
  23. Cut out anything but “said” (forget she sulked or he opined).
  24. Scrutinize long passages when characters are left alone. Find a way to dramatize internal monologues.
  25. Delete unnecessary character actions/musings that slow down or interrupt the pacing of natural dialogue.
  26. Rename characters whose names starts with the same first letter or whose names sound too similar.
  27. Kill your darlings. In other words, delete anything that sounds too “writerly” or fancy. 

Comments

  • Useful.

    Sometimes saying nothing (#16), however, says a lot...
  • I don't agree with them all either – at least not all the time. 
  • It really does depend on the piece of writing, doesn't it. And I think I probably never agree with cutting all long sentences in half. Sentences all the same length make for very repetitive, boring, monotone prose. 20 onwards is more like it.
  • Egg-zack-uh?-Lee!

    There's stuff which is usually a good idea, but sometimes it's good to do something different. Can you imagine how long and tedious a story would be if the author showed every single detail?
  • Sometimes a very long sentence is just what you need. And 'show don't tell' is a cliché and can lead to all sorts of convoluted actions which really just need a simple telling to move things on.

    As with all 'rules', treat them as guidelines if you like, but don't be bound by them.

  • Yes, that perfectly explains my gripe from the other thread when I said:

    'Ref cliché being used by a character - that reminds me of a piece of writing I put out for feedback with another forum. My character used a cliché. It was absolutely right for her to say it, but the worthies on that forum immediately picked up on it. I tried to explain that it was the character not the narrator/writer using the phrase, to no avail. Their blind intransigence really annoyed me.'

    Interestingly, GeeGee's point no.20 about cliché does support me!

     When people learn these 'rules' and treat them as gospel, therein lies the path to bad writing. Know the rules, but treat them as guidelines - and - more importantly, know when to break them.
  • It's like life, really...
  • There's a paradox at play here. These tips assume that the writer is already proficient (i.e. that they can recognise their 'best lines' or that they are 'rambling' or using 'unnecessary character actions'). The truth is that the writers who recognise these things generally don't do them, and the writers who make these mistakes do so because they don't recognise them. It's like a psychotherapist telling a patient: "Oh, just be less psychotic."

    By the by, this is a common fault in the teaching of writing. Many teachers have forgotten what it feels like to be someone who can't write and so they assume too much. It's no good saying, "Trim your description." How? Why? How much? When?

    I know someone who once asked their MA lecturer how to plot a novel and was told "Oh, it just comes." Worst advice ever.
  • Wow. Doesn't sound much like an MA lecturer's advice. 
  • One of the best things you can do is print it off and read it - I do that all the time it's amazing how different things can look when removed from a screen and put on a page.
  • I print off as little as possible nowadays. Less electricity, less paper, less C02. 
  • I don't print anything now, either but I agree doing so can be helpful with editing. Changing the font and the size works really well too, or isending it to your kindle or another device with a different sized screen. Anything really which makes it look different from how you wrote it.
  • Yes, I print my own stuff off. When I'm certain it's perfect. I also get someone else to read it out, even the computer. 
  • Liz – Wow. Doesn't sound much like an MA lecturer's advice. 

    There are good and bad teachers at every level. There are quite a few MA lecturers who have published just a single book and others who've published nothing. They tend to teach what they know.

    For some writers, I'm sure it 'just comes'. But that doesn't help a student trying to understand the process.

    That said, the calibre of students varies on different courses. I once had a third-year BA Literature student ask me how to use paragraphs. My question was how she'd managed to get that far without knowing!
  • Glad I did my MA somewhere good then.
  • I always feel a little inadequate when I read of such and such author who read English at University then did an MA in creative writing. It always makes me think that they know what they're doing and I suppose they will have a technical advantage in that they know when to put in a full stop, or a comma and when to split the sentences into paragraphs, and all the other grammatical wonders that make our language so difficult to learn but so diverse. (unlike me lol)

    They will also learn about structure, plotting and by studying the best writers they will learn what a wonderful story looks like. Does it make them a great writer though?

    I don't know.

  • LizLiz
    edited March 18
    I think anyone who is an MA lecturer is probably a great writer, they are appointed for that very reason. What they may not be is a great TEACHER. 

    Certainly they will be a published writer and mostly! therefore, excellent writers. 

    At the MA I did, the lecturers were all uber-excellent writers, and also very good teachers, and extraordinary human beings, which covers everything else needed. David Almond for example.

    People who take an MA have to be of publishable writing standard. At least where I went. Whether that means they eventually get published or not remains to be seen. Of the 8 people I was on the course with, most are published and some published extensively. Elen Caldecott, Jim Carrington, Alexandra Diaz and various others, including me of course. Two were doing it just for fun and not trying to get published, one a teacher and one a Dr. One is not published. One was already published and now teaches on the course. 

    I didn't think I'd ever do an MA and wasn't going to, it was the last thing on my mind, bt two friends encouraged me to, I was not very confident, and I got in, which surprised me greatly. I think Datco what that teaches you, being on the course, is that everyone feels they are inadequate and what I got MOST out of the year was confidence. That has helped me in so many ways. Someone who has been on an MA is not necessarily a better writer but they will have been forced to look very carefully at their own writing, they will be able to asses it and edit it much more efficiently, and they will have contacts and information that was not available to me at least before doing it. 

    Technical advantages are not what it gives you. If you don't know where to put a full stop you won't get on the course. You should know that already. 
  • I would add: Does it ring true? As you read there's sometimes a bum note. For me it's often to do with authenticity, a word or action that doesn't quite fit with the character.
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