Lately, I have sampled a few, different editors and have found they are not created equal, and finding one that doesn’t rip your creative endeavors to shreds is the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack.
Not that the ripping isn’t warranted, and I learn much from each ripping. But a little positive feedback would have been nice from the last editor on which I gambled. She sent me the bill and the edited manuscript. Nothing more. No: you suck, this shows potential, your titles are good, thank you for selecting me to edit your dreams, you did a great job numbering your pages. Nothing. Just pay the bill and don’t let PayPal smack you in the butt on your way out.
My editors in the past have always offered a kind word or two. Which to me, seems a must, if—as an editor—you want repeat business. I took her lack of response as a nice way of saying get lost.
And so I will. (And I had such high hopes.)
Over the last several weeks, I have considered creating a checklist to be used while self-editing my manuscripts before sending them to a professional.
All editors pick out the same errors made by a newbie writer. So, if you can eliminate these common mistakes—that none of your professors bothered to tell you in creative writing class—then maybe we can find an editor who offers more than just an English teacher with a red pen. (I can say that because I was an English teacher with a red pen once.)
How Things Happen
Funny thing, during my search for an editor I happened upon Travis Simmons. I love his author information.
Travis Simmons was kicked out of magic school because he enjoyed mundane habits like canning and cooking instead of using spells. Forced to travel the world selling his sword and (often defunct) sorcery, he stumbled upon a pack of normal dogs that he mistook for magical animals and imagined he could communicate with them. Still, they enjoyed the pizza he would toss their way, and they adopted him as one of their own. When a roving horde of zombies attacked his new family, Travis used all of his abilities to call upon aid from some witch friends who helped him fight the undead horde. But, always the introvert, the witches realized Travis was rather boring, so after the excitement of battle was over, they went back to their magical ponderings elsewhere…
I read that and said, I can relate. I—being raised by star gypsies and all—found it encouraging to locate someone else with an unusual upbringing.
Now that he had my attention, I read some of his blog posts and found his editing checklist. Low-and-behold, it resembled the one that rambles around in my head, and I gotta say for a guy adopted by dogs, he’s done a mighty fine job—all tied-up concise and easy.
Below, I share Travis’s Editing Checklist and encourage writers to review the list before sending off that manuscript to friends, family, editors, publishers, aliens, dogs, or Dr. Who. I also encourage you to check out Travis’s website. He offers great information and all kinds of services—like professionally formatting eBooks—for self-publishing authors.
THE Travis Simmons’s Editing Checklist
and staple it to the wall behind your desk
You know you want to. I did.)
Is the world built believably? For the story that you are writing is the world something the reader can really see? Is it a working world, or does it seem too generic?Are speech tags simple like “said” and “asked”? Typically they don’t need to be too flowery. Stay away from using how they spoke too, like “she asked slowly,” “he asked inquisitively.” For me, when I read something, I have already read it a certain way, and telling me after I’ve read it how it was said is just trash, it’s not needed.
Watch out for “ing” “ly” and “as” if things can’t be done together, don’t do them together. This means if you can smile and say something easily, then don’t do it. If you can’t turn on the shower as you get into the shower, then don’t do it.
Perfect the first 10 words and first 10 paragraphs to captivate the reader.
Cut scenes that don’t build the story or characters.
Cut or rework boring parts.
Add white space. This is very effective if things are happening fast. More white space helps the reader read the part fast, and makes it seem much more high impact because they are reading with the pace of the story.
Is the dialogue believable? Would people really say these things? Is is revealing and not facty? People rarely speak in facts. When you are using one person to teach the other people something they should already know, you are not helping yourself or your readers. I don’t get up in the morning and spout strange things my household already knows like “the sky is blue today.” No kidding.
Are contractions used well? For me this goes in a lot for first person. Listen to how people talk. Do they tend to say “that is” or “that’s.” This helps with dialogue as well as when the story is narrated by the main character. Contractions make your character sound realer.
Avoid info dumps. This leaves the reader bogged down, maybe overwhelmed, and sometimes bored (not good).
Avoid semi-colons and commas. Make sentences brief. This is more for young adult so the story reads faster, and with less complexity. However, I think this one is largely unnecessary.
Cut out generic action. Have you been reading along and someone does something and you are sure it’s just used to stretch the scene? I think I did this a lot with the first draft of The Mirror of the Moon. Grace was taking a lot of inhales of her pipe, and a lot of pulls from her tankard of ale. Also, no one needs to continue doing something. If we have already established that mom is cooking dinner, you don’t need to throw in here and there that she continued cooking dinner. Unless you tell us that she stopped, we will just assume she is still cooking.
Cut facts out of high tension and make sentences and paragraphs short and fast. Forward momentum is a beautiful thing. Don’t lose it. How do we lose it? Facts. If you are in the middle of a high speed chase, you don’t want to get into details that will take our minds away from the chase. Also, as I stated above with white space, if you are in a tense moment, make sentences and paragraphs short and clipped. This makes the scene flow fast as well as increasing tension.
Don’t tell emotions, show them. It’s amazing when someone can express their emotions with small actions, or words. If you say “Craig was embarrassed” that’s all fine and dandy, but wouldn’t it build the character if there was a certain thing Craig did when he was embarrassed?
Be mindful of overused words: “smiled” “that” “laughed” “turned” “looked” and others. You will know your own overused words. When you read through you will be like “oh my GOD, there’s that word again.” Make a list of overused words and work to cut them, or replace them with something else. Also, smiling is overused I think. If people are smiling or laughing all the time, and everyone is doing it, that seems kind of generic to me. Almost like the writer can’t think of anything else for his character to do, so they add in smiling. “That’s great!” Craig smiled. Can you smile well while saying something? Does it look really dumb when you do? That’s how people are going to picture your character. Smiles are good, but often overused.
Write against stereotypes for secondary characters. You want people, not cookie cutters. Make them interesting. The brainless cheerleader is fine, but what if she was really not brainless?
Is there enough foreshadowing? I love to foreshadow, because I think it adds depth. If you don’t foreshadow an event sometimes it might seem like a big coincidence. Of course, this is a personal preference. Foreshadowing is up to you, but I really like what it does to the story and the reader. In The Revenant Wyrd Saga I have foreshadowed things in the first book that don’t happen until the last. That way it’s preparing the reader for something, but they don’t think it is that important until they read the last few pages. Take Harry Potter. JK foreshadowed like crazy, making the story seem completely interwoven.
If there is a slow scene try relocating the characters to a different setting. In RUIN I had a huge issue. Things were being explained too much and there wasn’t enough action. It was very facty. So, I took them out of the safe space, and put them in danger for a large portion of the first third of the book. It adds tension and helps build so much more than just the story.
You can show character quirks and moods by having them do things with props. Just another way of showing how they feel instead of telling. This would be part of character building.
Watch out for “seemed” that is an evil word. Use it sparingly. Alright, this is a big problem I find in my writing. Everything “seems” like this or “seems” like that. I ask myself: “is it, or isn’t it?” If it seems like something, why don’t you just say it. “Jovian seemed confused.” Cut it, and add in something showing that Jovian is confused. Seem is bad because it’s just filler, and it pisses me off in my writing. I overuse seem a LOT!
Watch out for repetition. I sometimes repeat things a lot, and that drags the story down.
Additions to Checklist
Some of Travis Simmons’s Books