Self-editing: My final step

Editing your own work can be difficult. You're so close to the story that you often see what you think you've written and not what you've actually written. I'm at the final stage in my current manuscript - Book 1 of The Flanagan Sisters so I thought I'd share what I do.

My final edits happen when I'm happy with the story; the characters are well-rounded, there's enough description, I'm happy with the plot and there's a satisfying ending. I then go through my editing checklist, which is kind of a line by line​ edit.

The checklist is broken into different parts:

  • ​there are words I know I overuse
  • there are filter words which separate the reader from the action
  • there are words that indicate you're telling not showing

One by one I search my manuscript for these words and I examine the sentence it's in. Can the word be substituted for another? Is the word required? Can I rewrite the sentence to make it stronger?

This process generally takes me a couple of days and I'll often drop a thousand words or more.​ I'll give you a couple of examples of what I mean.

Overused words​

I remember doing work experience at a local paper when I was fifteen and being told 'that' is the most overused word in the English language. It's stuck in my head ever since and it's true. Often you can cut 'that' out and the sentence still makes sense.

"Now that she was out of the noise she realized she’d effectively been picked up."​

Getting rid of 'that' makes the sentence tighter.​

"Now she was out of the noise she realized she'd been effectively picked up."​

I'm not saying get rid of every instance of your overused words, but cutting a few out, or replacing them with synonyms really make a difference. And the more aware you are of overusing certain words, the less you'll use them during the first draft.

Filter words

I have a huge list of filter words - or stammer words as I heard them called recently. They are words which take you out of a deep point of view. Replacing these where you can means the reader will be further inside your character's head.

"Tanya flashed her hand at him and he saw two rings now on her left hand."

For the above sentence we're in the male point of view. Using 'he saw' distances the reader and puts them out of his point of view. Considered the below change. 

"Tanya flashed her hand at him and there were now two rings on her left hand."

You don't need 'he saw' because it's obvious from the point of view.

If you want more information about filter words and stammer words, there are a couple of good blogs about it.

Are these filter words weakening your fiction?

2 stammer verbs to avoid

Telling words

I think every writer has heard the phrase, "Show don't tell". Well there are a few words which highlight to me that I'm telling not showing. First you have your words ending in -ly: angrily, quickly, furiously etc. Then you have the verb to feel. You need to try and show the emotion rather than just tell us about it.

"How dare you?" she said angrily.​

In this example the dialogue itself indicates she's angry but you could add action as well.

"How dare you!" Her fists clenched and her body shook.​

Or if we're looking at the verb 'to feel', don't tell us he felt sad, show us by his down-turned mouth, the heavy feeling in his stomach or the tear that glistened in his eye.

As with anything, you need to assess the context. Sometimes it makes sense to use the telling words because to show an emotion will slow the pace and you need to keep the momentum going.

I hope this was helpful to any writers out there. If you're interested you can check out my own final edit checklist.

Have you got any words you would add to the list?