G’day, everyone, and happy 4th July! I’ve just received a holiday-themed email from Scribendi editing service offering an 18% discount until July 6th, (promo code INDE13), so I thought I’d pass it on! Having used a different editing service in the past I found it well worth it, but my main warning is this: edit the pants off your novel yourself first, or you might end up paying for fixes on something you’re bound to change. If you don’t want to risk that, you’re in luck, because at last I’m here to present the over-do-er’s editing checklist in all it’s summarized, un-formatted, copy-able glory! Complied from years’ worth of rummaging the internet for the best editing tips around, it’s been an invaluable resource for me, and I hope you find it useful too. (Links to the entire series, with more details in each post, can be found here).

Enjoy!

Structure

  • Does each chapter start and finish with a hook?
  • Do you have peaks and troughs in your plot/sub-plots and your characters’ emotions?
  • Do the climactic sections of your novel follow the structure of: Scene (Goal, conflict, disaster) and Sequel (Emotion, quandary, decision, action)?
  • Do you have too many action scenes in a row; or scenes where the character’s ordinary actions are described in too much detail?
  • If your novel feels too slow, check the MC. Are they driving the action or waiting around?
  • Are your characters’ goals clear?

Point Of View

  • If there are multiple changes in POV, check that they’re all necessary.
  • For each change, make sure the POV is clear within the first sentence.
  • Check for head-hops, e.g. POV character describing their eye colour, or knowing another character’s thoughts/intent.
  • Check for filters, e.g. I watched, I saw, I heard, I felt, I wondered, I thought.
  • Cut descriptions of things your character wouldn’t naturally perceive.
  • Use pointing words – e.g. ‘that/there’ – to place your character in the centre of their world.

Showing Instead Of Telling

  • Trim adjectives from your dialogue tags and replace them with an action – aka a beat.
  • Make sure your beats are original and build your characters’ personalities rather than just emotions.
  • Watch out for too-obvious information reveals – events, dialogue or even thoughts – and weave the information in instead.
  • If you must convey something through dialogue/ thoughts, at least showing something, by using words which build character or voice.
  • Replace ‘ly’ words with action. A mini-checklist: Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally.
  • ‘Seemed to’, ‘tried to’, ‘started to’, ‘about to’, ‘something started’, ‘fought the urge to’ and ‘immediately’ can be replaced with the actual action.
  • Check for situations where showing may not be necessary. e.g. it’s dull, irrelevant, or would be much simpler as a tell.

Characterization

  • Check that your characters react realistically to big events.
  • Do your characters’ personalities/relationships change throughout the novel?
  • Let characters define themselves by their actions/views/descriptions etc.
  • Does each character have a good and bad side?
  • Do you have two characters fulfilling the same role? Can they be combined?
  • Be careful characters aren’t describing themselves just to give information to the reader.
  • Check for lengthy/clichéd character descriptions and remove.

Setting

  • Do your layouts work? Is the position of your characters clear and consistent?
  • When switching setting, establish that setting in the first sentence.
  • When visiting a location for the first time, watch out for descriptive information dumps.
  • Use props to enhance setting, personality, emotion and to ensure characters don’t interact in the same way for too long.
  • Include physical sensations (e.g. all the senses).
  • Keep the amount of description appropriate to your genre.

Dialogue

  • Comb as many ‘ly’ words as possible out of your dialogue (she said urgently).
  • If dialogue feels forced, try experimenting with what isn’t said, or what is said completely out of character.
  • Use dialogue to foreshadow tension and hook readers.
  • Remove anything unnecessary to understanding who’s speaking (unless it serves another purpose, like characterization).
  • Watch out for big chunks of text without dialogue or white space.
  • People can’t snort/laugh/grimace/enthuse/hiss/breathe/smile/moan/growl/gasp words.
  • Watch out for overuse of names in your dialogue (or anywhere, really).
  • Check that if a character says something that’s not followed by a dialogue verb of expression (he said), it ends in a full stop.
  • During long periods of dialogue, add action to maintain interest and ground the reader in the scene.
  • Check for overuse of it/s, that/s, had, because and was, as they may indicate that you’re explaining things for the sake of the reader.
  • Make sure every conversation either moves the plot forward, increases tension or builds character/relationships.

For Nit-Pickers

  • Semi-colons should be used when you want a pause between two related sentences.
  • Search for double spaces and remove any hidden extras.
  • Make sure your auto-correct has changed every case of . . . to an ellipsis …
  • Check your compound adjectives: a compound adjective is an idea that can’t be separated or else it would lose its meaning.
  • Confirm your use of forward/s and toward/s, Mrs and Mrs. , Mr and Mr. etc.
  • Ensure numbers are spelled out and hyphenated where necessary – e.g. twenty-five thousand.
  • Search for every  ‘s  and s’ to uncover possessives that should be plurals or possessive names that end with s and therefore need s’.
  • Action clauses that use ‘ing’ or ‘as’ imply parallel actions which may be impossible.
  • Remove dangling participles e.g.  ‘Approaching the club, the music got louder and louder.’
  • Check that consecutive paragraphs don’t all start with the same thing.
  • Sentences should be structured as subject-verb-object, eg ‘Sam flung open the door’.
  • Conjugations of the phrase ‘to be’ – such as ‘she was’ – which can indicate passive voice. Also: was/had/were/is/am/are/has/have/being/been/just and be + verb.
  • Remove redundancies – e.g. entire lot, actual fact, sunk down, climbed up, heaps more and gathered together.
  • Remove crutch words and cliché phrases, e.g. ‘suddenly’ or ‘couldn’t help but’.
  • Sentences in actions scenes should be choppy and fast-paced.
  • Check unintentional repetition – in general and on a sentence level.
  • Check for overuse of adjectives/adverbs.
  • That v’s Which.
  • Lay v’s Lie.
  • Was v’s were.
  • Their/there/they’re, its/it’s, who’s/whose, faraway/far away and everyday/every day, that/which, was/were.
  • Though v’s Although.
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