Self-Editing: 10 Tips Checklist for Children’s Writers
Here are 10 tips to you can use to help fine-tune your children’s manuscript:
1. Check for clarity
Check each sentence for clarity. It’s important to remember that you may know what you intend to convey, but your readers may not. It’d be a good idea to have someone else read the manuscript for you. This is where a good critique group comes in handy.
2. Check for “telling” and lackluster sentences
Check each sentence for telling. While you will need some effective telling, you want to have more showing.
Example: Joe hit his head and was dazed.
Alternative: Joe banged his head against the tree. He wobbled a moment and fell to the ground.
Show, don’t tell. Use your imagination and picture your character going through motions—maybe he’s turning his lip up, or he’s cocking his head. Try to visualize it; this will help in showing rather than telling.
A good way to add more showing is to add more sensory details. Use the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) to create a living character; this will help breathe life into your story.
Example: Joe felt cold.
Alternative: A chill ran through Joe’s body.
Example: Joe was frightened.
Alternative: Joe’s breath stopped. Goosebumps made the hair on his arms stand at attention.
3. Point of View: Watch for head hopping
Checking for head hopping is especially important for children’s writers since their stories should be told from the protagonist’s point of view or perspective.
If the story is being told from your main character’s point of view (POV) make sure it stays there.
If my POV character Joe is sad and wearing a frown, it wouldn’t be advisable to say: Noticing his sad face Fran immediately knew Joe was distraught. This is bringing Fran’s POV into the picture.
You might say: Joe knew Fran would immediately notice his despair; they were friends for so long.
Or, you can just use dialogue: “Joe, what’s wrong?”
4. Watch for story consistency, conflict, clarity, and flow
Checking for consistency, conflict, clarity, and flow is another must for all writers of fiction. If you’re a children’s writer it’s even more important. Children need a structured story that’s consistent. The story also needs to provide conflict and action to keep the child engaged, along with clarity to help with comprehension. It should also flow smoothly with one paragraph, chapter moving seamlessly into the next.
5. Use spell-check
Make sure you write with spell-check on or use your word processor’s spell-check when you’re finished with your manuscript. I like writing with it on.
Just be careful here because while spell-check will catch misspelled words it won’t catch words that are spelled correct, but are the incorrect word in regard to meaning.
Example: He was to tired.
Correct: He was too tired.
These words are called homonyms and spell-check will not catch them.
A homonym is a word that sounds like another word, but is spelled different and has a different meaning. Examples of homonyms are: hare/here/hair; bare/bear/; stationary/stationery; peek/peak; principle/principal; capital/capitol; compliments/complements; cite/site/sight.
6. Use your Find function on your word processor
This is a great tool to check for “ly” words, “ing” words, weak verbs, and over used words such as “was.”
7. Watch for redundancy
Check the story for repeated phrasing and even paragraph beginnings. You don’t want several paragraphs in a row beginning with “the” or other repetitive wording. When editing your manuscript use the Find function in your word program and look for overused words.
Another aspect of redundancy is using unnecessary words.
Example: Sit down on the chair.
The word ‘down’ is redundant; ‘sit’ implies down.
Example: She whispered quietly.
The word ‘quiety’ is redundant.
8. Check for tight writing
In today’s market, tight writing is important—readers have a shorter attention span. So, get rid of unnecessary words and text.
Example: Joe had a really hard time lifting the very heavy and big trunk.
Alternative: Joe struggled to lift the huge trunk.
Also, watch for words such as “began” and “started.”
Example: He began to lift the trunk.
Alternative: He lifted the trunk.
9. Check for punctuation and grammar
There are a number of great books and even online articles that will help you learn proper punctuation and grammar. Two books that I use are: The Frugal Editor by Carolyn Howard Johnson and The Great Grammar Book by Marsha Sramek.
You can also do a Google search.
10. Children’s writers: Take illustrations into account
When writing a picture book you need to allow for illustrations. Picture books are a marriage between content and illustrations—a 50/50 deal. So, watch for text that an illustration can handle. With picture books your content doesn’t have to describe every little detail—the illustrations will embellish the story.
Well, this completes the 10 tips, but please know that self-editing is a tricky business and this is not an all inclusive list. Even knowing all the obstacles to watch out for, self-editing is still tricky. It's almost impossible for us writers to catch all our own errors; we're much too close to our work. We know every nook and cranny of the story and that makes it difficult to read it in a fresh manner. Even if we think we're reading every word, our mind is way ahead of us, that's why it's advisable to look into hiring an editor.
Karen Cioffi is a children's ghostwriter, rewriter, and editor. Have a children's book manuscript, outline, or idea? Check out: Writing for Children.
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