Write Tight: Self-Editing Tips
Here are some things to look for when you are ready to polish your work.
1. Ask this question: Does this scene (paragraph, dialogue, sentence) move the story forward? If I take it out, will the story still make sense? Or, can it be condensed, streamlined, simplified to do so?
2. Watch for weak passive language: the “ly” words, “to be” verbs, especially when used with “ing” words. Use strong, active verbs to “show” rather than “tell.”
3. “Show” versus “tell.” If you write “She was sad,” I, as reader, want to know how sad feels? I want to experience it with the character. Every action elicits a re-action. Someone you thought was a friend ignores you at a function. How do you feel?
Use the five senses whenever possible to show feelings, indicate mood and develop the character. (Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste and Touch)
4. Look for extraneous words: That, Just, Very, Really, Some, Stand up = stand, Sit down = sit, Turned around = turned, He thought to himself = He thought, She shrugged her shoulders = she shrugged, She whispered softly = she whispered, He nodded his head = he nodded .
5. Taglines: Do you try to find 101 ways to say “said”? Not necessary. If you use a tagline, it’s best to stick with the simple. But, whenever possible, use an action or a reaction instead. This helps to build the character by showing what he is thinking, how he is reacting, and it provides action in a what could otherwise be a static “talking heads” situation. And if you commonly write “Dialogue, blah, blah, blah,” she said, AS she did some action—delete the “said” and go with the action.
These are just a few (but important) things that can help you polish your manuscript. Do you have any other tips to add?
she A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, will be published in May 2014. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.