40 Days of Worksheets – Day 28

ramonagravitarWorksheet #28 – 10 Random Self Editing Tips

Here are quick fixes for making your copy cleaner, leaner, and meaner.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Get rid of just (see above), really, very, etc. This is mentioned really very often, but writers just don’t seem to listen.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.

Please note: All worksheets posted are my original work and intellectual property. I ask that you share the links on social media, and you are welcome to share the worksheets with your critique groups and writing friends with credit given. That being said, these worksheets—despite being posted on the Internet—may not be copied, distributed, or published as anyone’s work but mine. In short: sharing is good, plagiarism is bad.

Disclaimer #2: You may post your completed worksheet if you’d like, but please remember that, by doing so, you are sharing your ideas with all of the Internet. You’ve been warned.

How to Revise in Three Steps: Part 3

Definition of POLISH  from Merriam-Webster online


  1. : to make (something) smooth and shiny by rubbing it
  2. : to improve (something) : to make (something) better than it was before


Step 3 – Polish

The third and final step in revising a manuscript in three steps (Revise-Edit-Polish) may not include rubbing, exactly, but the goal of Step 3 – Polish is to produce clean copy. In the publishing industry, “clean copy” means error free.

Ideally, in Step 1 – Revise, you repaired structural weaknesses, plugged holes, built tension, revealed character growth, moved the plot from an engaging beginning to an exciting climax, and provided a satisfying and logical story for your reader.

Ideally, in Step 2 – Edit, you evaluated the narrative sentence by sentence and allowed good grammar and a pleasing style to give the story its own special voice and sound.

Ideally, in Step 3 – Polish, you will go through the manuscript one final time to make sure every plotline is closed, every false suspect is cleared, every character with red hair remains a redhead, and every word is spelled correctly, every i dotted and every t crossed.


Although this post is about the final step in the 3-part revision plan, this does not necessarily mean your story will be ready for submission. Perhaps it will. Perhaps you will run it by a beta reader. Perhaps you will hire an independent editor.

These three steps are to guide you to working on your own. It is my belief that, circumstances permitting, you should treat your MS to these three steps before you send to a beta reader or independent editor, or agent.  These three steps will help you get the MS to the best shape YOU, the author, can reach with on your own, with your single set of eyes.

If you work with a critique group and submit weekly or monthly, I think this system will work for chapters and scenes. Before each partial submission of a draft, Revise-Edit-Polish to save your critique partners from reviewing raw or rough material.

You would do this ideally. Remember–this is not the only way to revise. It is  a way to revise.

What does the Polish step do?

Each of these three steps has a specific purpose:

Step 1 – Revise is to strength the story as a whole.

Step 2 – Edit is to insure the words are correctly and pleasing put together.

Step 3 – Polish is a final look to judge if all errors and weaknesses are caught and repaired.

Revise looks at the broad landscape of the story. Edit looks at the smaller pieces of scenes and sentences. Polish looks at words—word by word by word.

For Step 3 – Polish, you will want to examine your pages with sharpest eye—at a time when your eyes are pretty tired of it! At this point, you may be suffering from Manuscript Fatigue Syndrome: the inability to “see” the details of your story because you’ve rewritten, tinkered, cut, pasted, and corrected it to the point of mental blindness.

With up to 100,000 words to examine, one by one, mental and visual fatigue are no joke. How can you help yourself see the words with fresh eyes for Step 3 – Polish?

In Step 1 – Revise, I noted that the work could be done on paper or by screen. In this step, changing your vision in a concrete way may help you see it more clearly. Here are some ways to do this:

~ If you have been working online, print out the manuscript and red pencil it.

~ If you have been working on paper, review the manuscript online.

~ Change your physical location: go to a library, coffee shop, your basement, a hotel for the weekend.

~ Change the background color of the manuscript.

~Change the size of the font, or change the font.

~ Read it aloud.

~ On paper, place a ruler below each line to keep your eyes train on one line at a time.

 What are you looking for?

A clean and polished manuscript goes beyond finding typos.

As you read with your sharpest eye, look for:

Technical/mechanical errors:  typos, omitted words, single/double quotation marks, ellipsis/dash errors, missing punctuation, dialogue tag errors.

Continuity: Unless a change occurs within the story, characters should have the same name, hair color, job title, number of siblings, pets, address, etc. throughout the story.

 Redundancies: Each sentence should offer a unique bit of information. Once the information is shared, such as identifying Sgt. Wilkes as your police character’s boss, you do not need to ID Sgt. Wilkes as the boss again. An exception to this is if the character appeared so briefly, you think the reader needs a reminder.

Word Choice:  Are verbs as precise and as strong as they can be? Are adjectives employed for a specific purpose, and not because you want your writing to sound pretty?

Repetition: Check for words or phrases in close proximity. If “she made up her mind” in one paragraph, in the next paragraph she might decide, vow, promise, instead of “she made up her mind” again. Also look for individual words used twice in the same sentence or paragraph. Variety is good.

Clarity: Is every sentence clearly written to convey an easily discernible thought? Is the wording smooth, without awkwardness?

Sentence Variety: Six word sentences are very easy. They can do an okay job. After a while they get dull. The sentences’ sounds will be blah. Your head will bob like a duck’s.  You will soon want a nap. Please give your sentences some variety.

Likewise: Pausing at the door, she felt in her pocket for the key. Checking down the hall for Zeke, she slipped inside the apartment. Holding her breath, she made sure no one was in the TV room. She tiptoed down the hall, stopping at each open door. She went into the kitchen, pulling the phone off the hook as she went by. She opened the oven, sticking her head inside after reading so many boring sentences.

Transitions:  Do paragraphs and scenes segue naturally forward? Do you use transitions—later, meanwhile, after a while, a week later, post-lunch—to jump ahead when necessary?

Grounding: Is it clear in every scene who is where and where is where?

Extraneous words:  Are you adding to the word count, but not to the content, by overloading the writing with deadwood? Cut out just, very, somehow, that, was, then, suddenly, and so on. Don’t forget pleonasms:  the up in walked up the stairs, and the down in descended down the stairs.

Your writerly habits: Every writer has favorite words, turns of phrase, quirks and style giveaways. This may make your writing unique, but it can also become repetitive with overuse. If you can hear or recognize a habit, that means you are overdoing it.

Can you stop now? Please? 

After Revise-Edit-Polish, this is probably the question you’d love to ask, and have answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Well, sorry, the answer is “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Where you go from here depends on you. No matter if you send this manuscript to a beta reader for feedback, a critique group for review, a professional editor for strengthening, or an agent for consideration, revising through these three steps of Revise-Edit-Polish will give you a stronger, tighter, more coherent, and cleaner work.

Because your work is worth it, right?

How to Revise a Manuscript in Three Steps, Part 2

Definition of EDIT from Merriam-Webster  online

Transitive verb

  1.  to prepare (something written) to be published or used : to make changes, correct mistakes, etc., in (something written)
  2.  to prepare (a film, recording, photo, etc.) to be seen or heard : to change, move, or remove parts of (a film, recording, photo, etc.)
  3. to be in charge of the publication of (something)

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgStep 2 – Edit

Once you go through Step 1 – Revise and feel confident your manuscript’s story elements (plot, conflict, characters, etc.) are in place, the next step is to make a pass focusing on technique and style. The Internal Editor you tied to a chair in Step 1 gets to have his day.

If Step 1 – Revise focused on the big picture of the story, the middle step of Revise-Edit-Polish will examine how the story is delivered to the reader: the writing.  By “the writing” I refer to elements that run from artistic choices to basic mechanics:

Style and Voice–the author’s distinct use of words and her selected manner of expression for this story;

Diction and Syntax–the choice of words and how they are arranged in phrases and sentences;

Grammar and Punctuation – the set of rules that explain how words are used in language and the marks used to regulate text;

Errors and Other Considerations – typos, missing words, padding, and other boo-boos.

Editing goes beyond catching typos. A manuscript may contain a series of grammatically correct sentences, but if the sentence structure is the same every time, the MS will be repetitive; if the word choices are unimaginative, the MS will be dull; if the voice is indistinct, the MS will unremarkable; if the words contain no action, the MS will be aimless; if the style is affected, the MS will sound false; if scenes are told instead of shown, the MS will be distant.

You may think of this step as examining the sound of your story—what your words say and how they will sound to a reader.

Separating Style and Technique

Editing the manuscript at this level means you will examine it paragraph by paragraph and then sentence by sentence, for style (the author’s artistic choices) and technique (the mechanics of grammar).

Style asks, Is this sentence pleasing to the literary ear? Does it work best in this spot? Are word choices strong?

Technique asks, Is this sentence grammatically correct? Is it efficient? Is it necessary or redundant?

Every sentence in your manuscript should serve a purpose: to advance the plot, reveal vital information about a character, describe the setting, inform about an important past event, ask a narrative question, introduce a thematic concept. Every single sentence needs to have a function. If a sentence does not do a particular job—meaning, if the scene will fall apart or be less effective without it—that sentence should be cut.

How those sentences are arranged and delivered will create the sound of your story. You want a manuscript that will be pleasing to the literary ear, and entertaining, and technically sound. You can do this by writing a series of strong sentences that perform a particular function to advance the plot.

Editorial Considerations

 Many writing guides have been devoted to self-editing, so distilling a guide into a blog post means hitting the basics. Not all writers are strong grammarians. Not every writer is gifted with a unique literary voice. For an overview such as this one, some self-examination is necessary. Do you recognize good grammar? Can you be brutal and cut out what is not necessary in the narrative?

The first step in good editing is to distance yourself from your writer’s ego. In Step 1 – Revise, you had to fight off the Internal Editor. Here, in Step 2- Edit, you have to push away your Writer’s Pride, pull back, and examine your words with as little bias as possible. Editing is as much mental as it is task-oriented.

Editorial Tasks

 I’m going to focus on what I often see as common editorial problems in manuscripts. These may not be your particular issues, but these are the repeat offenders for me. Check your manuscript for the following:

~ Cutting: Some writers write long, some writers write short, and a few lucky ones write just right. If you write long, you’ll need to trim the bloated parts; if you write short, you’ll need to take care you don’t pad to hit your targeted word count. As written in bold above, if a sentence doesn’t do a job, it should be cut. Bigger than that, however, is when a section or a scene doesn’t perform a vital job in the story. Vital means that the story (plot advancement, character development, background) will fall apart without it. Cutting out the extraneous should have been handled in Revision, but Editing should reaffirm that every sentence in the story is there for a reason. A good reason.

~ Repetition, Overwriting, Over-explaining: Do your pages contain sections like this:

“She entered the basement. It was pitch dark. The dank room was as black as night. She couldn’t see her hand in front of her face. She felt along the clammy wall for the light switch.”

 ^^Here, the writer tells us three times that the room is dark. By the time I get to the hand, I’m ready to yell “I get it!” at the author.

“The door was locked. She needed the key to open it. She scrabbled in the drawer for the key and used it to open the door.”

^^Readers know how a key works. “The door was locked. She scrabbled in the drawer for the key” does the job.

Mickey cursed and charged at Evan. Evan, half a head shorter, realized his best chance was to call in his old wrestling skills.  He crouched and head-butted Mickey in the stomach. Mickey oofed and stepped back. Knowing his upper hand was temporary, Evan crouched again and took Mickey down at the knees, and then used his left arm to bend back Mickey’s right arm….”

^^Is this the most boring takedown ever? In a fight, there is no time to explain (realized, knew, used his arm). In an action scene, stick to the action.

Writers repeat, overwrite, and over-explain for two reasons: They don’t trust themselves, or they don’t trust the reader.  If you have written a good strong sentence with a clear purpose, relax. The reader will get it.

~ Weak Word Choices: Run, look, hurry, walk, turned….these are useful verbs, but for each, a stronger choice can paint a clearer picture for the reader. If you change walk to amble, the impression changes. If you change amble to strode, it changes again. A look is not the same as a glance which is not the same as a stare which is not the same as a stare. Don’t play it safe and stick to the same-old, same-old in word choices, but take care when playing around with the thesaurus.

~ Distinct Dialogue: A person’s speech reveals a great deal about their economic, social, and educational background—plus their self-image. What do your characters spoken lines show about them? Do your characters sound the same, or do they show their distinctions in speech?

~ Balance: Exposition, action, dialogue—these are three types of writing to be balanced in the manuscript. Some things need to be explained. Action scenes need to move the plot. Dialogue is necessary for intimacy. However–too much exposition may make the narrative ponderous. Too much action may leave the reader gasping for subtext. An overload of dialogue can make the setting disappear. Read for balance and give the reader a break by shifting from one type to another. If you find page after page of long paragraphs, add dialogue, and vice versa. A reader will appreciate variety.

~ POV Slips: No matter the editorial choice of 1st Person, 3rd Person, close or omniscient, a manuscript works best when delivered via one Point of View at a time. A character can only report what he sees, feels, and knows. He can interpret or guess at what other characters see, feel, and know, but a slip occurs when he reports from someone else’s head. In Editing, put yourself in the character’s head. If you can’t see it, feel it, or think it, the character can’t report it. Check your narrator’s words to be sure she is only thinking what she is thinking, feeling what she is feeling, seeing what she can see.

~ Show, Not Tell: Are your scenes live—action that is happening in the now of a story? Telling is appropriate in circumstances of the story, but if you choose to tell, make it a choice. Telling about a location or past event, or any type of background pauses the forward motion of the plot and makes it stay into neutral for a while. That may need to happen, but know that you are pulling the reader out of the now of the story. Don’t linger so long in telling that the story stalls.


The following are a mixed bag to consider while you read through your manuscript sentence by sentence:

Is this sentence grammatically correct?

If not, is that a style choice?

Does the construction of this sentence match the author’s style?

Are sentences constructed in various ways?

Is the voice of the sentence active or passive?

Am I using dialogue tags effectively?

If I’m using a semi-colon, is each side an independent clause?

Am I using an ellipsis to show a line fading out, and a dash for an interruption?

Is it clear what I am trying to say?

Is this sentence giving unique information, and not redundant?

If I open a scene with dialogue, do I immediately thereafter ground the setting?

Do my scenes open in a variety of ways?

Do my scenes close time after time with the same punchy type of line?

Are my verbs sharp and distinct?

Do I hold back from using too many adverbs?

Do I show emotion through action (clenched fists) rather than clichés (her heart pounded in rage)?

Do I avoid clichés in general?

Do I use similes sparingly?

Do I disrupt character’s dialogue with non-productive actions?

Do I stick with said in dialogue tags?

Do my characters take deep breaths, roll their eyes, and ears perk up, while their hearts beat faster, their pulses race, and their eyes water?

Do my characters speak or make speeches?


Overwhelmed? If so, let me simplify the Step 2 –Edit step.

Read through your manuscript, sentence by sentence and ask:

  1. Is this sentence grammatically correct?
  2. Does this sentence perform a specific function, in this spot, for the story?
  3. Does it advance the plot?
  4. If read aloud, is it pleasing to the ear?

If yes, move on to the next sentence. And the next. And the next. That’s what editing is, evaluating sentence by sentence.

Tomorrow, Step 3 – Polish.

Mastering the Art of Self-Editing Workshop

Pennwriters Area 2 Workshop

Saturday, April 6, 2013 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
911 Market Street, Bloomsburg, PA Fire Hall

Registration for this workshop is open here.

Mastering the Art of Self-Editing, taught by freelance editor Ramona DeFelice Long, is a hands-on workshop designed to help writers view their work with a sharp and critical eye. Writers will learn strategies and revision skills to sharpen craft, style, and technique, as well as how to recognize and change bad habits. The workshop will also include larger topics such as structure; characters and consistency; and central ideas and story arcs.

Materials to bring:

  • Paper, pen/pencil

  • Yellow highlighter

  • Pink highlighter

  • First 5 pages of your current work in progress