At last, we reach the final installment of the Over-Do-Er’s editing checklist! From eradicating danging participles to doing a good old word search for things like ‘s to make sure you haven’t got any possessives which should be plurals, I’ve compiled as many useful tips and grammatical rules as possible. As pedantic as it may seem, it’s worth it. (Later this week I’ll post an easy-to-use summary of the whole thing). Enjoy!
The Nitty-Gritty Editing Checklist:
1. Action clauses that use ‘ing’ or ‘as’ imply parallel actions which may be impossible – e.g. ‘pulling on my jeans, I run out the door’. (I guess that’s technically possible, but certainly not with my coordination). Search your ‘ing’s to make sure you’ve caught them all.
2. Banish dangling participles (beware – they hide!) For example, ‘Approaching the club, the music got louder and louder.’ The participle (approaching the club) doesn’t have a subject to refer to, so it attaches to the only available subject (the music), and ends up implying that the music is doing the approaching.
3. Check that consecutive paragraphs don’t all start with the same thing.
4. To ensure you’re writing in active voice, structure sentences as subject-verb-object, eg ‘Sam flung open the door’, rather than ‘the door was flung open.’ Conjugations of the phrase ‘to be’ – such as ‘she was’ – can indicate passive voice. Common conjugational culprits include: was/had/were/is/am/are/has/have/being/been/just and be + verb.
5. Remove redundancies – e.g. entire lot, actual fact, sunk down, climbed up, heaps more and gathered together.
6. Hunt down crutch words and cliché phrases, such as ‘suddenly’ or ‘couldn’t help but’.
7. In your actions scenes, make sure the sentences are choppy and fast-paced.
8. Remove unintentional repetition – e.g. a character constantly being described the same way or words being reused in close proximity.
The Nit-Pickers’ Nightmare
1. Make sure all your semi-colons are used correctly – i.e. when you want a pause between two related sentences. More details here.
2. Search for double spaces and remove any hidden extras.
3. Make sure your auto-correct has changed every case of . . . to an ellipsis …
4. Check your compound adjectives: a compound adjective is an idea that can’t be separated or else it would lose its meaning. For example, there can be a light sky and a blue sky, therefore it’s not necessary to write ‘light-blue’. However, it changes the meaning when you separate free-range chickens. You wouldn’t just tell someone there were free chickens down the road, right? (Thanks to editor Lisa Terry for this!)
5. Whether you’re using US or British English, confirm you’ve got the right versions of words like forward/s and toward/s, Mrs and Mrs. , Mr and Mr. and so on.
6. Make sure any numbers are spelled out and hyphenated where necessary – e.g. twenty-five thousand.
7. Search for every use of ‘s and s’ to make sure there are no possessives that should be plurals, or possessive names that end with s and therefore need s’.
8. There would be loads more of these. Drop them in the comments!
Common Confusions and Relevant Rules
Check for the correct use of:
1. That v’s Which. ‘That’ introduces an essential clause, without which we wouldn’t understand the sentence. For example, ‘I don’t believe anything that I haven’t seen for myself.’ ‘Which’ introduces a non-essential clause, where the subject has already been identified. For example, ‘The car, which was parked outside the shop, was leaking oil all over the road.’
2. Lay v’s Lie. ‘Lay’ refers to what the subject does to another object, for example you might lay the book down, while ‘lie’ refers to what the subject does to itself, so you might watch your dog lie (itself) down. More rules on their infinitives and past participles here.
3. Was v’s were. ‘Were’, as a past subjunctive, is used for stating conditions that are contrary to fact, such as ‘if I were a mermaid.’ ‘Was’, as a past indicative, is used for stating conditions where the falsity isn’t certain, such as ‘if I was to get a mermaid costume.’
4. Their/there/they’re, its/it’s, who’s/whose, faraway/far away and everyday/every day, that/which, was/were.
5. Though v’s Although. Both are used to show a contrast, but ‘although’ is more formal.
6. Loads more of these too, I’m sure. What tips have you found?
Oh, and P.S. Don’t forget to check back this week, when I’ll post a dot-point summary of the entire checklist (all seven installments of it!) for you to copy for yourself.