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Editing and Revisions

A few weeks ago, a fledgling writer (more fledgling than me) asked me for advice on punctuation.  I was elated because I knew the answer, and had to fight the urge not to represent myself as an editing scholar, but the truth is I’m grossly unqualified to tell anybody anything.  I provided her with the answer she sought and suggested she pick up a copy of Jane Straus’ book, “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation”.  Other reference books you will see often mentioned are Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”, and William Zinsser’s, “On Writing Well”.  My very first, and still my favorite reference book on writing fiction, is Evan Marshall’s, “The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing”.

In the course of writing manuscripts, I gleaned little pieces of information from a dozen different sources and compiled them into one quick reference guide.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of sites out there offering in-depth definitions, examples  and explanations for everything I’ve posted.  I’ve written it as succinctly as possible as a quick reference guide only.  Since it was gathered by me and for me,  it may only be beneficial to me, but I hope not.   Remember, short and sweet is what I’m after.

Fiction should usually be written in 3rd person omniscient, past tense and active voice.  Word length varies with genre and individual publishers.   I write fictional crime, average target word length about 100,000.  Romance novels less.  A novel should be divided into three parts; the beginning, the middle, and the end.  The beginning should be about 1/4 of the book, the middle 1/2, and the end 1/4.   Now, here’s the edit checklist I compiled.  If this has been a benefit to anyone, please let know.  If anyone would like to contribute to this list, please let me know.

1.)                Use adverbs sparingly

2.)                Use adjectives sparingly

3.)                “Very” is a weak adverb.  Remove it when possible.

4.)                Be specific describing things.  Not a dog, a collie.

5.)                Limit weather reports.

6.)                Don’t describe what doesn’t need description.

7.)                Use all five senses when possible.

8.)                Whenever possible, give description in action.

9.)                Describe only what’s essential to the story.

10.)            Write in the positive.  Say what was, not what wasn’t.

11.)            Delete redundancies, such as “sky above”, “hung down”, etc.

12.)            Delete unnecessary possessives.

13.)            Clean out clarifiers, like a bit, a little, fairly, highly, just, kind of, mostly, pretty, quite, rather, really, slightly, somewhat, sort of.

14.)            Cut unnecessary articles (a, an, the).

15.)            Delete “And” at the beginning of a sentence.

16.)            “Of” can often be deleted.  Not “students of the college, but college students.

17.)            Cut unnecessary words, not the smile on his face, but his smile.

18.)            Watch for autonomous body parts.

19.)            When describing acts of looking, use gaze instead of eyes.

20.)            Cut “began to” or “started to” to the simple past participle.

21.)            Don’t overuse “then”.

22.)            Don’t tell something twice.

23.)            Don’t tell more than we need to know.

24.)            To avoid confusion, refer to each of your characters the same way.

25.)            Don’t overuse characters names.  Name at beginning of paragraph, then he or she.

26.)            Delete clichés.

27.)            To show habitual action, use the past tense instead of would

28.)            Watch “it”, which should replace the noun it immediately preceeds.

29.)            Delete “appeared to” and “seemed to”.

30.)            Limit the use of “there are” and “there were”.

31.)            Watch for introductory participles that don’t modify the subject of the sentence.

32.)            Don’t use “hopefully”.  Write “I hope”.

33.)            Watch for “Morse Code” (too many hyphens and ellipses)

34.)            Don’t overload a sentence with too much information.

35.)            Pronouns must agree with their antecedents.

36.)            Search ize and ization words and cut when possible

37.)            Search tion words and cut when possible

38.)            Don’t type up or print out, just type or print

39.)            Don’t use et cetera or etc

40.)            Use hopefully carefully.  Use I hope, or it is hoped.

41.)            Don’t modify unique with very, rather or so – unique is unique.

42.)            Don’t use anxious when you mean eager.  Anxious means worried.

43.)            Currently means now, write now. 

44.)            Don’t string nouns together as adjectives

45.)            Watch out for activity, e.g., sports activity is simply a sport.

46.)            Don’t use advance plan.  Redundant.

47.)            Avoid rather and very as qualifiers.  Look up precise word.

48.)            You center on, not center around.

49.)            If and when.  Use either if or when.  Don’t use either/or.  Pick one.

50.)            Avoid however at all cost. 

51.)            Avoid importantly and more importantly.

52.)            Avoid in addition to and moreover. 

53.)            Prohibited altogether is no more prohibitive than prohibited.

54.)            Midair collision.  Where is midair?  Write in-flight.

55.)            Notoriety is not the same as fame.  It is ill-fame.  Use only for bad guys.

56.)            Ditto for infamous.

57.)            Don’t write thus, or thusly.

58.)            Don’t use vast with difference.

59.)            For the purpose of has no purpose.  Write to.

60.)            End result?  No, result.

61.)            Same with proceed, e.g., she proceeded to ask.  No, she asked.

62.)            Watch what you make, you could be making verb into cumbersome noun.

63.)            It’s different from, not different than.

64.)            Don’t use individual for person, and don’t write one individual.

65.)            En route is two words, not enroute.

66.)            Whether or not.  Just whether will suffice.

67.)            There is, there are, and to be should be eliminated when possible

68.)            Eliminate the word that.

69.)            When in doubt about a word or phrase, take it out

70.)            Replace weak verbs with strong verbs

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