Sticky: Ma's Editing List

Started by Dawn, January 23, 2018, 02:45:34 PM

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While I was searching for something I found this.  I hope no one minds, but I thought it was very useful so I've borrowed  ;) it as I know Ma would like to see it here, I'm sure.

Ma's 100 editing list             Develop a thick skin now


Point of view. 
Make sure you have a point of view for every scene.   
You must be clear of whose head you are in as soon as possible.

Check you are in the right tense.
Check the tense you have chosen is consistent throughout.

Over use of the following:
Was – were – had – it – that – there – ly's

Avoid gerunds (ing) and as clauses.

Weak nouns and verbs.
A good check if you have added  adverbs or adjective to each.  If so, see if you can make the two words into one powerful one. 

Word or phrase that can be removed without altering the meaning of sentence.  That, just, actually, more or less for example.


The exclamation mark.
Do not over use.  This weakens its use, a mistake new writers make all the time.

Thoughts punctuation.
Publishers frown on thoughts being in italics. Also it seems the single quote mark. The best way is no punctuation to distinguish the thought.
eg: I wonder how you punctuate a thought. Stands on it's own if you are in third or first pov.

Song titles or parts of lyrics.
It is acceptable to use italics without quote mark.

Should only be used sparingly for emphasis.

Don't use a comma, question mark or exclamation mark after an ellipsis.
Use an ellipse to indicate missing words.
No spacing needed after an ellipsis.

Publishers feel this mark throws the reader out of the story.  Use sparingly.
Is viewed as near as damn a period.

Show don't tell.

Make sure you have described your character.  The short, fat...does not show.
If you give your character mannerisms, be consistent.
Make sure he/she connects with the reader.
If your character uses dialect or slang make sure you are consistent so not to throw readers.
Give your character something to do.  A gesture or an action.
Describe your characters surroundings.

Involve the reader with the senses.
Make the words a vivid picture for the reader to taste, smell, see...

Cause and effect
When something happens, there must be a reaction.  If your character is hurt what do they do.

What is happening in the scene?

Spell-check Ignores.

They're, there and their.
The house is over there.
What happened to their cat?
They're feeling the effects of sunburn.

Your and you're.
You're always on that computer.
Your friends will get you into trouble.

It's and Its.
It's about time you left for work.
The farmer wrung its neck with deft wrist action.

Loose and Lose.
The tiles on the roof are loose.
Don't lose your way in the fog.

The writing of the story.

Avoid, they are looked on as weak writing.

Back story.     
Check you have tied up all loose ends e.g.  If you fight a character earlier in your work make sure there is reference to why and how.

Dialogue Tags.     
Remember, said is not the enemy.   Use action beats to discourage 'spit-fire' dialogue.

Every scene must have this present.   Yes, every one of them.   Not all to the same degree, mind, but a scene without conflict somewhere is window dressing.   Cut it.   Use oblique dialogue to create conflict by getting your character to refuse to answer a question directly.

Stellar hooks.
A reader goes no further if the opening sequence opens like a sack of wet hair—lifeless and dumb.   Make certain it opens with a bullet, not a blank.   In fact, make every opening sentence stellar.   Yes, every one of them.   What?  You think writing is easy?

Cliff-hanger endings.     
On the opposite end, every scene must end with the reader wanting to know what happens next.   If you end it without a cliffhanger or question, revise it.   The only ending that doesn't have this is the last one in your novel.   Yes, I'm serious.

Melodrama vs.  drama. 
Did you go over-the-top in a scene?  Exclamation points are good signs.   Bolding, italics, CAPS ALL, etc.  are also good markers.   Amateurs need these like training wheels.  Professionals know that less is more.

The big picture.     
What message do you want to give the reader?  In almost all cases, you want the ending message to be positive.   Give the reader hope.   The message doesn't have to slap the reader in the face with each scene, but the overall message must be clear.   No, entertaining the reader isn't enough of a message.   Check the overall work to make sure the message sings.

Cold eyes.     
Once you've finished writing do not start editing!  I give myself six weeks to let the manuscript sit in a freeze without thinking about it.   You want detachment to your work before you review.   Errors you won't catch riding the high or a finished piece will bash you in the head when you read it cold.

Get to the point quickly.

Keep it simple stupid (KISS).

Content matters more than craft.

Don't overuse negatives.

The Golden Triangle is king (The Rule of Three).

Setting establishes mood.

Write scenes like you're working a camera with shifting focus closer, closer, closer.

Tension must not let up until the end.

Can you sum up the entire plot in one sentence of 25-words or less?
If not, you need more focus
Don't give the protagonist a break until the end.

Give the protagonist a break
A bit of good news to make him/her believe everything is going to be okay...  then pull the rug making the situation worse.

Makes sure the reader always wants to know what evil the antagonist will do next.

Give everyone flaws and character tics.

The protagonist must change through the story!

Write for yourself.   If you don't like it, no one else will.

Can you tell who is speaking in dialogue with no dialogue tags.  If you can, the character is unique and stands out.   If you can't he or she is cardboard.  Refine it.
Keep dialogue to three sentences or less.  If speech is long break with some action.

Make sure it's not hard to follow.  Check the overall pace and progression is fine.

Cut Unnecessary story that doesn't move the story along.

Number pages.

Frowning publishers.
Don't start a novel with flashbacks, back story or dreams.  Use a prologue if you must.
Living limbs are a no no...  His hand reached for the gun etc.

Personal Errors to look for.

Repetition and waffle.
Don't over describe an image.  Once is enough.
Don't repeat words or phrases close together.
Don't assume the reader can read your mind, make it clear.
Proofread to make sure it says what you think it says.
Don't go off at a tangent.  The reader knows he's drinking coffee, they don't need to know  where the coffee was bought.

In the first group we have words which cause your fingers to stutter.   
You will usually recognise these whilst proofing but if they're persistent  - and consistent - then you can do a simple find and replace on a whole chapter to find them.   

In the second group, the non-sticky spellings.
Things like deperate/desperate, separate/seperate.   If the correct spelling won't stick then write it along the sticky top section of a post-it, trim off the surplus, and stick your aide-memoir on a handy nearby surface.  The lower or top rim of the monitor, the top edge of the keyboard, or the unused surfaces of the printer/scanner. 

After a while some of them will stick in your mind after all, but if in doubt you can just glance down and there's the answer.   It saves breaking out the dictionary - either paper or on-line - and possibly your thread of thought.

Look for and remove "Coffee Breaks."
(Points in the story where there is no action, but where the characters sit down/rest/eat/etc to hash over the events of the story or introduce info dumps).  Death to Coffee Breaks! Characters should always be doing something that moves the story forward or reveals something about a character.

Info dumps Similar to the coffee break.
Try to avoid 'Thinking scenes' where the character is alone for too long.  Sometimes these scenes are necessary, but keep them tight and full of action that push the story forward. 

Examine all metaphors and similes.
Make sure that they are relevant, cliché free and not overdone.  Similes and metaphors are seasoning, but like salt, too many can ruin your prose.

Consider creating a Central Metaphor.
(Recurring imagery woven throughout the book to highlight a specific idea that is important to the story. (Coming of age, a transition (death, a failing marriage, a new career), trust, redemption, finding one's strength, etc.) This can be done through the setting that is observed, making it relevant (coming of age: noting spring shoots peeking through the soil, ripening tomatoes, a stream strengthening into a river, etc) or mirroring a circumstance (IE: a character with trust issues is brought face to face with circumstances where trust occurs (a mother guiding a child across the street, a father handing the car keys to a son, A street performer who opens himself up to feedback from the crowd, etc.) Just make sure that if you choose recurring imagery, that it's relevant to the type of story your writing, and mood and atmosphere is taken into consideration, too.

With thanks to Wolfe, Orpheus, Gyppo, Mustang, Symphony and Momzillo who were kind enough to add to my list.  Their contribution is greatly appreciated.


Cheers, Dawn.  Good to see this list again.  It's the sort of resource new writers need, and it doesn't do the older hands any harm to refresh their memory either.

If you've never seen it before may I suggest you read it straight through once, just to 'seed' the general ideas in your brain.  Then pick out a small part of it, there is bound to be one bit which grabs at your attention and warns 'Maybe I do that?'

Then apply that bit to a reasonably large chunk of your own writing and be honest with yourself.  Make a few notes for yourself and then take time to think about them.

This list is about learning to think, not a quick fix.

The next day try another bit on the same body of text.  And so on.

If it starts to get boring, if you find your eyes just slipping over the words and nothing really registering, then give it a break for a few days.  But don't forget to come back.

It's a learning process and by repeatedly using the same block of text you won't be distracted by new story threads and images.  We all suffer to some extent from 'Shiny new object' or 'butterfly syndrome' and would prefer to be busy creating something new.  But by learning the hard way it will make our new stuff instinctively better once the lessons have sunk in.

It's worth the effort.  Truly.

Have fun.  And take time out to laugh over bits like this.  But they're a real problem.

Living limbs are a no no...  His hand reached for the gun etc.

It's even more bizarre in bad sex scenes.  'His hand slid upwards and fondled her breast.  She sighed happily.'

What?  This strange bint is turned on by a disembodied hand roaming around her body.  That's what the words say.  She's a total Whacko.  Almost certainly not what the writer was trying to convey.  Use the man's name at least.  The hand is an extension of his love, lust, curiosity, or even cruelty in darker fiction.

'She smiled as Eric gently toyed with her nipple.  At least he didn't treat it like the knob on a radio, one twist for on and another for off.'  That's still pretty dire writing, but at least it brings then both to life.  (It also reveals that I'm not of the push-button generation, another thing to bear in mind when you're choosing your metaphors.)



You're welcome, Gyppo. It seemed such a shame to not bring over valuable information that members brought to the table. Ooh, I see it's been stickied, thank you.

Perhaps a board where we could house all the info like we used to have?


Thanks for posting this Dawn. It's far too valuable to allow it to get lost.
Daan Katz, Author - Where the Magic Happens
Join my facebook group Daan's Magical Worlds


Quote from: Dansinger on January 24, 2018, 11:59:17 AM
Thanks for posting this Dawn. It's far too valuable to allow it to get lost.

Happy to help x


There are several gems like this over at the old place that I'm sure the authors would have brought here with them, were they still alive to do so.
"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." -Groucho Marx

A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark. -Chinese proverb

Blondesplosion! ~Deb