Worksheet #28 – 10 Random Self Editing Tips
Here are quick fixes for making your copy cleaner, leaner, and meaner.
- Master dialogue tags. This is the formula: open quotation mark, dialogue, punctuation, close quotation mark, speaker’s name, speaking word, period.
Said is the standard speaker word. Asked, answered, yelled, whispered, etc. are acceptable because those are ways to speak. Sighed, yawned, laughed, smiled, shrugged, etc. are NOT acceptable because those are not ways people speak.
- Learn—and banish—your habit words. My characters love to peer. They peer and peer and peer. They too often get annoyed, appalled, and aggravated. At least once a story, someone calls someone else a Troglodyte. I finally broke the Troglodyte habit and began using nimrod as my pet insult. Now I have to banish nimrod because I’ve overused it. As a writer, you are a work in progress, and you have to keep an eye on yourself—and your habit words.
- Ground the reader in the opening of every scene. Look at the opening lines of each scene. Can you place the characters in a physical spot, or are they floating around in the ether chatting away, or walking in some unnamed place while the reader struggles to get a visual?
- Look at the structure of your sentences. Are there several in a row structured the same way? That gets repetitive. Do you write short sentence after short sentence after short sentence so that your writing is choppy? Mix up sentence styles.
- Examine the endings of your chapters. Do you have a habit of asking a leading question at the end of every chapter? Or does a character end the scene with a witty comment—every time? A few times is fine. More than a few is a habit.
- Cut the looking. “Maxwell walked into the kitchen and looked around.” It is a given that when a character enters a room, they’ll look around. “Maxwell looked into my eyes and said….” a)If Maxwell is going to speak to you, he’s going to look into your eyes, not your elbow, so it’s unnecessary to mention the eyes. b) Unless Maxwell has an issue with making eye contact and looking into your eyes is significant, there’s no need to mention the looking at all. Just let the man speak.
- Get rid of just (see above), really, very, etc. This is mentioned really very often, but writers just don’t seem to listen.
- Use Spell Check. It won’t catch every error but it helps, and you are allowed to disagree with the suggested changes. Plus, it’s free. Free is good.
- Examine your scenes. Does every scene have a specific purpose? Does it lead to a next scene? If this scene was cut from the manuscript, would the story fall apart?
- Do your characters speak like real people? Unless your character is delivering a speech or giving a report, dialogue should be a few sentences long.
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