My Self-Editing Checklist – It Might Help You!

Editing is important and challenging.

I’ve got about 200,000 words to put through the editing ringer before February. That’s a lot, but it’s okay: I have a plan. Every editing session, I start by reviewing 20 editing ‘rules’ that I find important.

The items on the list below don’t have a ton of explanation, but I tried to throw some examples in to help. Also note, I made this list for my own use, so don’t be surprised if it’s a little whacked.

Guidelines I review before each editing session:

  1. MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE
    1. Every line must have a mission and a goal.
  2. SPECIFIC detail is strong storytelling
    1. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov
    2. Focus on moments
  3. Only use INTERESTING ADJECTIVES / adverbs.
    1. If they’re vague, they don’t add much. Ex. Lovely, excited.
    2. Make sure they’re not redundant and they add to the story.
  4. VERBS are prettier than adjectives.
    1. Instead of lots of description, paint a vivid picture with verbs.
  5. Get INTIMATE early with characters.
    1. Readers have little patience for foreshadowing or drawn out and dramatic intros.
  6. ADVERBS suck hardly. Adverbs change the meaning of verbs, usually they end in ‘ly’.
    1. John smiled politely. -> John smiled.
      1. If you really need to show that it was a polite smile (if it’s that important) make it a separate phrase or sentence that illustrates the importance.
    2. John acted polite and smiled.
  7. VERBS are stronger than words.
    1. John gave a polite smile. -> John smiled politely.
  8. ACTIVE VOICE kicks passive voice’s wimpy ass.
    1. Passive is when the subject is acted on by someone/thing else. It sucks.
      1. His heart was crushed by a thousand whatevers.
    2. Active is when the subject does the acting.
      1. A thousand whatevers crushed his heart.
    3. (Passive voice is okay if you’re showing that it’s unknown or unimportant who did the acting.)
  9. FALSE STARTS are slow-starts, (ex. ‘There was… / There are…’).
    1. Just omit them and start the sentence already.
  10. ECHOES – words that are repeated in close proximity.
    1. Avoid as much repetition as possible: keep it DRY
    2. Even if it’s repeated for emphasis, it probably doesn’t work as well as you think.
  11. Keep character VOICE consistent.
    1. The voice is reader’s window to their personality, so figure it out and stay accurate.
  12. Make sure all PRONOUNS refer to the correct individual.
  13. SLANG can be confusing to readers. It can also confuse them.
    1. It’s fun, but be careful with it.
  14. STRONG verbs are better than weak ones.
    1. Avoid hesitant words like ‘almost’ and ‘began’ as they are pretty-much / almost / beginning to be useless.
    2. Try and replace regular verbs with super-strength ones.
  15. IMPACT through language is goal.
    1. No wishy-washy bulls#!t. Every word counts.
  16. SAID works.
    1. Use it for most dialogue tags.
    2. ‘Asked’ is okay for questions.
  17. SHORT sentences are your friend.
    1. Commas can be your friend, too.
    2. Cutting commas is only good to a point, because sentences need to be easy to digest.
  18. ELLIPSES are okay, in dialogue.
    1. In prose, use sparingly. They tend to stand out on a page.
  19. GRAMMAR conventions are important.
    1. Identify the conventions that you mess up most often, and stop messing them up.
      1. Ex. I have trouble with misplacing modifiers and sometimes I split infinitives.
  20. PUNCTUATION matters.
    1. Read each sentence according to the punctuation it has, not according to how you intend it to be read!

One struggle I’ve faced is adverbs. Sometimes they sneak in, and sometimes I allow them to stay, but it’s important to realize that not all adverbs are created equal. These are the ones I try and look out for.

7 MOST DANGEROUS / GRIEVOUS ADVERBS!

  1. ADVERBS IN DIALOGUE TAGS ARE EVIL!
    1. Try to not use them, ever.
    2. Ex. “Crap!” he said s#!ttily.
  2. ..ly ending adverbs
    1. coyly, dryly, happily, angrily, hopefully
  3. Quality adjusters
    1. well, poor, decent, very, really, sort of
  4. Directional adverbs
    1. down, up, over, under
  5. Speed adjusting adverbs
    1. fast, slow, suddenly, now, quickly, slowly
  6. Quantity/Amount defining adverbs
    1. only, just, a bit, a little
  7. Occurrence defining adverbs
    1. always, almost, frequently, often

What are the things that you have trouble with? First step is to be aware of them, so try starting a list!

Once you’ve identified them, keep a sharp eye and take ’em out. 😉