Friday, August 12, 2016

FINAL EDITING CHECKLIST!!!

by Kim Long


So I've revised, revised, and revised until I cannot revise anymore. Plot holes have been filled, my MC’s arc is complete, my word count is good, and everything is nice and shiny. FINALLY! So exciting to be done! 

NOT.

SO.

FAST.

Now comes the drudgery. And by drudgery, I mean the tedious task of final edits. There’s no quick way to do this. There’s no fun way to do this. But, alas, no matter how many times I try and talk myself out of it, i.e. "I'm sure it's fine," or "It can't be that bad!" it needs to be done. I want my CPs and betas to focus on the big things, not little things that can detract from the story.

And so, I turn to my checklist and get to work.

1.  Thesis Sentences. My MS is not a term paper or a legal brief, but it’s surprising how much I still catch myself writing thesis sentences. An example:

Kim wouldn’t give up yet. She looked under the couch, tossing cushions left and right. After finding nothing but loose change, she fell to her knees and crawled around the ottoman. Studying the carpet fibers, she . . .


You get the idea. “Kim wouldn’t give up yet” serves as the thesis sentence that is then supported by specific examples. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it! This sentence serves no purpose except to tell the reader what I’m about to specifically show them. I read every paragraph and delete most of these sentences.

Notice I say most. In some cases, sentences like this exist, but they are not thesis sentences. They’re used to quickly summarize info. “Slipping out the back door, Jim noticed the street was quiet. He entered his car and headed to the bar.” That’s fine because I’m not explaining anything more about the quiet street. I’m just relating Jim’s actions to move along the plot, specifically to get him into his car. Technically, not a thesis sentence. It can stay. (Though I’m not sure why I’d be writing about such boring info anyway.)


2. Interior monologue questions. I came across this point back in 2013 when I was working on my first manuscript. It was around Pitch Wars time, and a mentor, Rae Chang, posted something on twitter about how she was giving her mentees homework. First assignment? Deleting their MC’s interior monologue questions. I was like, What? She linked to this article. I read it and then went back to my manuscript. Holy Guacamole did I do this!

I started cutting and rephrasing, and I found that my writing became crisper, tighter, stronger (yes, like the six-million dollar man). It really forced me to make sure I had sufficiently related facts that supported whatever question I wanted the readers to be asking themselves at that moment. Do some questions deserve to stay? Of course. But I really look at each question and try and write so there is no need for the MC to ask that question.


3.  Was, There was/were. I always do a search for these words. It’s easy to fall back on them when describing a scene, but with a little rephrasing or tweaking, I find I can often display a more vivid picture. And it’s real simple to make the switch. 

Example:

There were bookcases lining the walls. An old, grandfather clock was in the corner. The safe was hidden behind the painting.

can be:

Bookcases lined the walls. A grandfather clock stood in the corner. Along the back wall, a painting concealed a safe.

Same thing with, “The room was dark.” I’ll change it to “The dark room” and continue from there. Or, “There was a knock at the door” will become, Knock. Using italics will denote it's a sound. Even, “A knock interrupted the conversation” or “Someone knocked,” or, “A knock sounded.” Any of these are possibilities depending on the context of the scene. More often than not, each will be stronger than the “There was a knock.” I find that words like "was" used in this matter remove the reader from the scene, even if just a little.


4. Felt, Knew, Thought. This is another thing I do in drafts (apparently) and have to go back and fix. Very rarely should my MC be using these words. It’s classic telling.

Example:

Clarissa felt scared. She had never been alone past ten o’clock. What if a robber came?

Not only does this use a question (blech, too easy), but it’s telling me how she feels. Yawn. If this is an important point (and it must be or it wouldn’t be here), I need to take the time to show Clarissa is scared.

Clarissa flicked on all the lights. As she passed the television, she paused, grabbed the remote, and powered it up. Eyeing the stereo system in the corner, she darted to it and turned on her I-pod. Music filtered through the house. She exhaled.

Better.

With a firm nod, she visited her parents’ office, kitchen, and bedrooms, turning on anything and everything that could demonstrate the house was occupied. As she made her way back to the living room, she grabbed her cell phone (just in case) and sunk into Dad’s favorite chair. Now it was like her family was home too.

Yes, this takes more words, but the readers get to sympathize with Clarissa more, feel her angst, her concern, rather than just being told that she’s scared.

And many times, I find I don’t even need to include such a long scene to convey the emotion. I can add a, “She cringed,” or “she rolled her eyes,” to convey what that character was feeling at the moment. The Emotion Thesaurus is a great resource for finding actions that correlate with specific emotions. Highly recommend!

5. Seemed and appeared. Somewhere down the road I read somewhere that “seemed” and “appeared” reduce tension and should be eliminated wherever possible. Say no to, “The door appeared to crack open.” Make that door crack open. No to, “He seemed to be getting closer.” It raises the tension if, “He was getting closer.” Again, there are exceptions, but this is something I search for and really look at to see if any appears or seems are necessary.


5. Replied, Asked, Questioned. We all look for ways to vary dialogue tags instead of “said.” I know that “said” should be used more often than not, but it’s nice to add some variety . . .  until I finish my draft and see that I have tons of “replied” “Interjected” and “added” and much fewer uses of said. So, I do a find and replace for these words, which leads to . . .


6. Prepositions and Pronouns. I’m better at these now. But I still find them. “Called out” can be “called.” “Sat down” can be “sat.”  “Stared up at the sky” can be “Stared at the sky.” "Passed by" can be "passed." Essentially, to make sure I don’t miss cutting an unnecessary preposition, I’ll do a search for the biggies: in, out, down, up.

For pronouns, for some reason I like saying this: “The three of them walked down the road.” Seriously? I can’t just say “They”? “Looked at herself in the mirror” is “Looked in the mirror.” Here too, I’ll do a search for her, herself, him, himself. The “three of them” thing I *think* I’m finally conditioned against so as not to do a search for “them,” but you never know.


7. Words I Love to Overuse. This list will be different for every writer. For me, my characters nod so much they’d nod their heads off if I let them. They sigh and shrug a lot too. “Just” is a big one, and even if it’s in dialogue, there’s no reason to have five “justs” on a page. Seriously, who would do that? Ahem. Anyhoo, smile is one for me. Glance. Oh my, do my characters like to glance. Look and stare too. One character in particular loved raising, arching, and cocking his eyebrow. Widening eyes? Check. Bulging eyes. Yep. Mutter, mumble, and murmured have become popular too.

This is all fine for drafts. The main thing is to get the words down and then revise, and when I do revise in second or third drafts, a lot of these do indeed fall by the wayside as I have developed tics for each character or know better how to weave in other, more relevant actions. But it’s always amazing how many of these I find in that final run-through. I really have to shake my head, which, by the way, my characters also enjoy doing when not slumping or sagging their shoulders.

Usually, while writing, I’ll notice that I’m using a word an awful lot. That’s when I start making a list so that when I’m finally, finally done, I can run those through a search and replace. It works with phrases too. This last manuscript had a kid “swinging his backpack” an awful lot while another kid kept, “surveying the scene.” Heh. I’d noticed both while writing, and then searched when I was done to reduce the number of those references.


8. Spellcheck. After all this tweaking, I will do another spell check on the entire document, just in case during these final edits I’ve screwed something up.


9. Title and Header. I’ve changed titles before and although I’ll fix the title page, I have forgotten to change the title in the header. So, I’m including this here to make myself remember to do it.



And that’s it! Now I can finally send this baby off to my wonderful CPs, betas, or agent! Overall, I’d say it probably takes me a good week to run through this checklist. It’s very tedious, especially when I get to the find and replace words portion, and I get tired/my eyes glaze over as I marvel at how many times I used the word “just” in a single manuscript. At that point, I’ll stop and go back to it a different day.

After I’ve done the above, I feel pretty comfortable having other people look at my manuscript. There’s going to be issues, sure, but, at the very least, the writing will be crisp so that my readers are able to focus on plot, character development, theme, etc. and not find the writing to be a distraction.

Hope reading about my edit checklist helps you with yours! If you have other things you, please share in the comments below!

Kim Long
@theSol23



9 comments:

  1. Great advice. I think in my worry over not using dialogue tags I overuse actions for who is talking. "Tess nodded, James shrugged." One good riddance causes another lol. Out comes the delete key.....

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  2. I am not anywhere close to a final edit with my WIP, but I'm bookmarking this as it has some great suggestions for that last polish. Thanks!

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  3. Thanks. I'm also bookmarking this for later! I'm adding a search for 'several' 'paused' 'hesitated' 'for a moment' and anything ending in -ly as most of them have no place in a good story.

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  4. Thanks. I'm also bookmarking this for later! I'm adding a search for 'several' 'paused' 'hesitated' 'for a moment' and anything ending in -ly as most of them have no place in a good story.

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  5. Thanks, everyone! Glad it helps!

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  6. Wow, what great advice here. I'm sharing this!
    I do have my characters ask questions. I'd better check the link. Oops!

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  7. Wow, what great advice here. I'm sharing this!
    I do have my characters ask questions. I'd better check the link. Oops!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Helpful post. Thanks for sharing. :) --- Suzanne

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  9. Helpful post. Thanks for sharing. :) --- Suzanne

    ReplyDelete