Living life as a writer On Writing Self-Publishing writing style

THE Editing Checklist

Finding an editor that doesn’t rip your creative endeavors to shreds is the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack. As well as finding an editor with whom you can collaborate. This writing industry of ours did not create editors equally.

Even though I learn much from each ripping, a little positive feedback would have been nice from the last editor on whom 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.)

A Red Pen

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… 

Beginnings of THE Checklist

I read that and said, I can relate. I—being raised by werewolves 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

(Go ahead, print it off, and staple it to the wall behind your desk or toilet. You know you want to. I did.)

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 not needed.

Watch out for “ing” “ly” and “as” if things can’t be done together, don’t do them together. This means you can’t smile and say something easily. Try it. It isn’t easy. 

Don’t state the obvious. If your character is getting into a shower, there is no need to say she turned the water on. Example, Don’t say: Turning on the shower, Clara stepped in. Instead, say: Clara stepped into the shower and allowed the hot, soothing water to ease her ache. In the last example, we understand Clara must turn on the shower to feel the water. No need to state the obvious. 

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 it 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 the first person. Listen to how people talk. Do they say “that is” or “that’s.” This helps with dialogue as well as when the main character narrates the story. Contractions make your character sound realer.

Avoid semicolons and commas. Make sentences brief. Especially for young adult fiction, so the story reads faster and with less complexity. 

About the story

Perfect the first 10 words and first 10 paragraphs to captivate the reader.

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?

Avoid info dumps. This leaves the reader bogged down, maybe overwhelmed, and sometimes bored.

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? Travis said: I think I did this a lot with the first draft of The Mirror of the Moon. Grace was taking a lot of inhales from 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 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 and increases tension.

Cut scenes that don’t build the story or characters.

Cut or rework boring parts.

Show. Don’t Tell Your Reader

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? Like shuffle his feet. Or pick his nose. Or pull on his earlobe. 

Be mindful of overused words: “smiled,” “that,” “laughed,” “turned,” “looked.” 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, some newbie writers overuse smile. 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/her/their 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?

Watch out for “seemed.” That is an evil word. Use it sparingly. Seem is bad because it’s just filler. I find this problem with my writing. Everything “seems” like this or “seems” like that. Consequently, I write something like, Clara seemed happy. Cut it, and add in something showing Clara is happy. Example: Clara uttered an almost soundless whoop. And then another louder, whoop. “Whoopee coyote, I did it. I did it!” she screamed and hugged the letter to her chest. 

Writing Style

Is there enough foreshadowing? Travis says: 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. It can add a depth and richness to your story. And prepares the reader for something, but they don’t realize it is important until they read the last few pages. Like an aha moment and it all comes together. 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. Tavis says: 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 much 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 repetition. I sometimes repeat things a lot, and that drags the story down.

Figure out when and how to use em dashes (—) and ellipses (…).

Thank you, Travis. It’s an impressive list. Check out Travis and his wonderful books on Amazon

If you have any additions to the checklist please let me know. I enjoy hearing what you think.

Top artwork on Flickr—The Last Unicorn Gallery by torley
Needle In A Haystack—Flickr byBrian Ingmanson
Scary Dog— Pixabay image by lizzyliz

Clara Bush
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2 replies on “THE Editing Checklist”

Hi Travis—Thank you for stopping by and for the comment and…the bestest editing checklist ever.

…—I’ll do some more research on em dashes and ellipses and maybe find a way to understand and explain…them.

BTW—I am a new reader to your collection, which book should I start with. They all look amazing…

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