An editing checklist is an invaluable tool for an author and I highly recommend using one to help focus your edits. Here’s a checklist I personally use when editing my manuscripts for grammar and style. This list is not comprehensive, simply common errors I look out for in my work.
1. Do you know what phrases or words you overuse?
Make sure any pet words or phrases are deleted. I went through a horrible stage of repeatedly starting dialogue with the use of ‘so’ or ‘well’ -shudder- I definitely edited those out. Also, check you haven’t used unique words or phrases too frequently as they are likely to stand out to the reader and momentarily pull them from the story.
2. Question your adverbs used.
The use of too many adverbs weakens the script and can often be the result of poor word choice. If you are attempting to convey emotion or action it is often better to use description to express it or reconsider your word choice.
Look to cut repetitive adverbs. For example: ‘The child smiled happily.’ The child is smiling, which already infers they are happy. ‘Happily’ doesn’t add anything to the sentence and should be removed.
3. Consider your use of the word ‘that’ and take out any unnecessary ones.
For example, ‘I think that using this word is unnecessary,’ vs ‘I think using this word is unnecessary.’ This is a question of personal preference and comes down to how your sentence flows. Try reading aloud if you’re unsure and see which one sounds better.
4. Maintain a list of proper nouns for the manuscript.
This can be especially important for those writing in the science fiction and fantasy genres where whole new worlds are created with their own set of proper nouns.
5. Are you showing not telling?
Check your script for instances where you could be describing and showing the reader what is happening rather than just telling them what has occurred. It creates a more interesting and dynamic story. Watch out for the filter words listed in point 8. These often lead to telling the story and should be avoided. Don’t forget to use all five senses!
6. Remove unnecessary speaker attribution.
Get rid of as many speaker attributions as possible, instead showing who is speaking through action. Remember not to use speaker attributions as verbs meant to convey action. Keep it separate.
Avoid: ‘Leave them to me,’ she said, nodding her head at the dishes.
Instead: She nodded her head at the dishes. ‘Leave them to me.’
7. Check for:
- Comma usage - have you used them correctly?
- Instances of passive voice - would using an active voice strengthen and clarify the sentence?
- Tenses and point of view. Be consistent.
- Dialogue tags - usually ‘said/says’ is enough. Allow your dialogue to speak for itself and convey the emotion of the character without you spelling it out.
8. List of unnecessary words to search for and remove where appropriate:
- Filter words used rather than describing a sensation outright, such as: See/saw, seemed, hear, knew, notice, think, touch, wonder, realize, watched, looked and feel. By getting rid of these filter words you avoid ‘telling’ and your voice is more active.
- Intensifiers, such as: so, extremely, very, truly, definitely and really
- Qualifiers, such as: sort of, quite, usually, never, fairly and always
- Change ‘thing’ or ‘things’ to an actual word
- 'Suddenly' - is almost always unneeded
- ‘I’m not going to’ replace with ‘I won’t’
- ‘Going to’ replace with ‘will’
- ‘Turned to face’ replace with ‘face’
- ‘Decide to’ - don’t have characters decide to do something, just have them do it
- ‘Begin/start to’ - don’t have characters begin to do something, just have them do it
- Whether or not - lose the or not
9. Restrain yourself in the use of the following:
- Avoid overuse of names in dialogue
- Try not to use clichés
- Keep your ‘ly’ adverbs in dialogue tags to a minimum
What are some of the common errors you look out for? Do you use a revision checklist? Leave a comment and let me know!