Friday, November 21, 2014

10 simple but effective editing tips

As NaNoWriMo comes to an end...’s time to start thinking about editing your brand new, but probably not squeaky clean, manuscript. Something, I now realise, most writers seem to despise. Tapping out that first draft is easy; the imaginative, colourful, exciting part of writing a book. But it’s rough. The rough draft. You don’t have time to battle with punctuation and grammar and risk interrupting the creative flow and the communication between your brain telling your laptop the story.

That comes later. Even before employing an editor to help you polish, some editing has to be taken on by you. But it needn’t be a traumatic experience. Here are a few simple techniques to help tighten your writing.

1.      Although sometimes it's needed, mostly you can remove ‘began to’ and ‘started to’ and 'continued to'. ‘He began to eat his chips’ can be written as ‘He ate his chips’. ‘I started to walk to the shops’ can be written as ‘I walked to the shops’. It’s sharper and makes no difference to the reader’s understanding.

2.     Again, some are necessary, but remove as many ‘was’ and ‘were’ from the narrative. ‘I was unhappy’ ‘She was excited’ ‘They were pleased with the weather’ ‘There was a big tree in the garden’ – they are all telling the reader something, and we all know how bad telling is. Find a better and sharper way to reword these sentences, show the reader the scene and the characters’ emotions.

3.      Likewise, remove filter words such as ‘felt’ and ‘saw’. Let the reader use their own senses so they can be part of the book and not sit on the periphery. ‘I felt the hot sun on the grass beneath my feet’ = ‘The sun burned the grass beneath my feet’ and ‘I saw a large tree in the garden’ = ‘A large tree towered above me in the middle of the garden’.

4.      We’ve all got words and phrases we love to use. Mine is 'just', which I happen to know a lot of people share in this obsession. Other common words are ‘that’ ‘really’ ‘very’. Some of your characters might 'roll their eyes' a lot. You are likely to have an inkling as to what your overused word is. Ctrl + F on Word will seek them out so you can delete them or reword them. If you don’t know your word, ask someone to read your manuscript; they will find it! Just like a reader will if you don't deal with them first!

5.      Adverbs. I don’t need to say much on this as I expect you’ve all heard it many times before. ‘I walked slowly’ vs ‘I crept’ or ‘I tiptoed’; 'The door banged loudly' vs 'The door slammed'.  It's obvious which are better.

6.      Cliches. Again, I doubt I need to patronise you all and say get rid, but it is a testament to your writing if you can be original. Please don’t let ‘shivers run up’ your characters’ spines. Please don’t let ‘hearts beat like drums’. Reword and show off. The odd one later in the manuscript might pass by unnoticed but don't risk lots. 

7.      Avoid superfluous words. ‘I shrugged my shoulders’ = ‘I shrugged’. ‘I nodded my head’ = ‘I nodded’. The reader will get it.

8.      Don't be boring. Sorry, bit rude, I know. 'I walked to my bag and took out my keys. I walked to the door and put my keys in the keyhole and I pushed the door open with my other hand....blah blah blah.' Yawn. 'I fished for the keys in my tote. God, I had so much junk in there, where were they? There! I grabbed them and rushed to the door, it clicked as I unlocked it and I shoved my way through.' Probably not the best example, but I'm sure you get the idea. Don't over-tell actions, and try to blend in some description and some personality as you write.

9.      Keep moving your story forward. This pretty much means leave out the back story. A little here and there is essential, but blend it in naturally. Don’t pile paragraph upon paragraph of exposition, don’t keep taking us back in time so we can understand, don’t bore us with too many details in one go. Blend, be subtle.

10.  Pay attention to point of view and tenses. Decide how you’re telling your story. First person, third limited or omniscient, past or present tense, etc. Then stick with it. If you’ve been telling the story from Bill’s POV from chapter one to chapter twenty one, don’t suddenly view a scene from Martha’s. If you’ve let us into the mind and emotional turmoil of Adrian, don’t half way through a chapter describe Philip’s. Be consistent.  

That should keep you going for a while! Simple elements to focus on, but all will have a huge impact on your writing and your story. Good luck! I'm here for you. 



  1. Excellent advice!

    No. 9 is something that is super-critical. It's easy to want to include EVERYTHING you have in mind. But you can't. Proper flow is a must!

    Just like you said in No. 2: show, don't tell.

    —Vic. S.—

  2. Thanks Victor. I agree with you! As readers we know how boring reading too much back story can be, so as writers we have to ensure we chop chop chop! Happy editing!