Hello! I know it’s been a long time since I posted; I’ve been working on some big projects I’d love to share with you soon. For now, I wanted to share this list with a friend of mine, and thought you all might like it too. This is a checklist I use for my editing process. I do more editing than this of course, but if you get through these all, you should be well on your way! I will include more general editing tips, as well as lists of specific words to look for. I’ll probably write more on this in the future, but this is a good overview.
1.) BASIC READ-THROUGH — Read through the story, looking with an eye toward anything that seems rushed, poorly explained, or overly wordy. Highlight the passages, or edit as you go.
2.) TELLING NOT SHOWING — Look for passages of ‘telling’ instead of showing. You may want to expand them to be more descriptive, or just remove the phrasing that sounds ‘telling-ish.’
Search for these words in your document, for possible signs of showing.
NOTE — When searching for words, try different input to catch different forms. ex.) searching ‘know’ will get ‘know, knowing, known. Searching ‘Glanc’ will get ‘glance, glanced, glancing, glances’ etc.
KNOWING words – For more about these, check out this great article.
Thought/think (especially in dialog, ‘I think that…’)
Figure/figuring (as in ‘figured it out’)
Mind (her mind said… Changed mind etc)
3.) SENSE words — These are often improved just by removing “he smelled (x)’, instead just describing the sensory experience without filtering it through the character. This can make your writing much more immersive.
Caught (as in ‘caught sight’ ‘caught the scent’ etc)
Look (Can also help find telling like ‘It looked like (x)’
4.) WAS — This one can be time-consuming because it’s such a common set of words. This can help you find things like “she was sad” or “it was ugly” that could be much better described.
5.) UNKNOWN THINGS — Just say what it is or be more descriptive.
Man/Woman/Child/Guy/Lady/Boy/Girl (with no further description)
6.) BORING BLOCKING — Keep track of blocking you overuse. Consider eliminating the blocking, or replace it with a more interesting activity rather than generic reactions.
Here are some common culprits.
Tapped/tapping (like toes or fingers)
Anything with eyebrows (furrowing, raising, cocking)
Roll (eye rolling typically)
7.) LOOKING — We can assume two people talking are looking at each other, or the character is looking at an object that is described. Try to keep descriptions of directions people are looking to a minimum.
(Any other eyeball-based verb)
8.) BORED CHARACTERS — It can be annoying to read about how characters aren’t doing anything. If the characters are bored of the story, the readers will be too. Keep it to a minimum and get them feeling more passionate about something.
Attention (not paying attention)
9.) NEGATIONS — One might tend to say what things are not excessively, ‘It wasn’t big’, ‘she wasn’t looking’. It might be more interesting to say what it was instead. ‘It was underwhelmingly tiny,’ ‘She stared out the window at the garden.’ Look for these signs…
Supposed (as in ‘supposed to be’)
(Really any ‘-n’t ‘ word)
10.) SPECULATION — Are your characters spending too much time wondering what will happen, instead of making something happen? Search for question marks to locate potential places to trim unneeded pondering.
11.) OVERUSED DESCRIPTIONS/DISEMBODIED BODIES — Try not to re-describe the same things too much. DOUBLE DUTY! As you go through these, also watch out for body parts doing things instead of people. ‘His hand reached for the lever’ rather than ‘he reached for the lever.’ Sometimes it isn’t necessary and can be a bit strange.
Body words like slim/skinny/fat/thick/tall/short etc
(And any other body parts)
12.) DIALOG — Read through your dialog– does it sound natural? Does it sound like the character? Are you ‘as you know, Bob’-ing? (When characters tell each other information they already know. ‘We’ve been married for forty years’ ‘I’m your mother.’)
Is it clear who is speaking? You may need a reader to judge this for you. You might need to put more attributions than you think, especially in scenes with more than two characters speaking.
13.) DIALOG FILLERS — same as in real life.
Oh (my) god/Oh no
Yes/No (often already implied)
Hey/hello/hi/bye/goodbye (also implied when conversations begin/end)
What the (heck, etc)
Great/cool/brilliant etc (one word replies)
Unnecessary cursing (You know who you are…)
Unnecessary ellipses (…Likewise)
14.) UNIMPORTANT DIALOG — See if you can remove single word/short responses like “What?” “Really?” “Are you sure?” “Who?” Instead, just have the character explain themselves without prompting.
15.) DIALOG TAGS — ‘Said’ is preferred, with the occasional ‘ask’. Decide for yourself, but the simpler the better, and watch for places you could eliminate the tag entirely, or replace with an action.
And avoid the following if you can, as they’re often implied by the punctuation or sound pretentious.
Avoid other strange choices like ‘raged’ or ‘simpered.’ Many people have a pet peeve of characters ‘smiling’ (or other facial expressions/movements) dialog. As in, (“Okay,” he smiled.) This can be fixed with a period. (“Okay.” He smiled.)
16.) GIVING IT AWAY — Look out for phrases like ‘X gave a wink’ instead of ‘X winked.’ Your characters might be giving away nods, shrugs, sighs and more.
Made/Making (If ‘made a face’, what kind of face?)
17.) CHARACTER NAMES — People don’t usually use each other’s names that much in one-on-one conversations. It’s okay to use a little more than real life to help identify who is being spoken to, but see if you can reduce it. Especially avoid constantly shouting each other’s names ala Titanic.
18.) FILLER WORDS — These are words you can frequently just remove entirely without losing any meaning.
Of the (as in ‘some of the people’ changed to ‘some people’)
Down/Up (as in ‘sit down’ can become ‘sit’ or ‘raised up’ becomes ‘raised’)
The (‘The sunlight’ can become ‘Sunlight,’ ‘The clouds’ to ‘Clouds’ etc.)
19.) INTENSIFIERS — Remove or replace with a stronger modified word. (‘Very fast’ to ‘rapid’ etc.)
20.) HEDGING — Not often necessary; be bold!
21.) UNIMPORTANT TIME MINUTIAE — Usually removed without issue
Suddenly/All of a sudden
Then (Change ‘He did this, then he did that’ to ‘He did this, he did that.’)
Specific times — (Five minutes, ten seconds etc)
‘A while later’
22.) PERSONAL OVERUSED WORDS — Finally, use a site to find the words you use the most, and see if any stick out as overly high. Try to use unusual words only once or twice in a novel. Here’s a site I use.
You may also want to check your writing for adverbs, as many people don’t like them and they could be a sign of telling instead of showing. Sites like Prowritingaid or Hemingway can help you find adverbs, as well as other ways to improve and streamline your writing.