I have been on a mission to improve my writing all year. My book, Stitches, released in March (2020). Although I am proud of the first book in the series, I do believe book 2 is an improvement. There is always room for improvement.
As some of you know, I use a professional editor whenever I prepare for a book release, but over the last few months, thanks to the #writerscommunity, I am learning about more things I should look out for in my writing. Somethings need to be removed and somethings need to be added. Simple.
Oh, just so it’s out there, self-editing is something I do to make my editors job easier. I DO NOT believe I could ever release a book with only self-editing. Not even with beta readers feedback.
Here is a list of adds and removes to get you started on your self-editing journey! This is by no means a complete list!
Sensory details! Sight, Touch, Smells, Sounds, Sights.
We are constantly explaining the “look” of something which is sight, but what does it smell like. In a coffee shop, we know it smells like coffee, but can we also smell the intrusive cologne of the business man in front of us, can we hear the hissing of the espresso machine, is the MC shocked by how soft the baristas hand is when it accidentally touches her’s as he takes her payment? Also, coffee is smooth, bitter, sweet or savory when we drink it.
More details, but in different places…
Let me explain this one. lol. I have had a few editors tell me that “info dumping” is a no-no. Putting all the details on a person, place or thing in two big paragraphs can be off putting for readers. In order to keep things fresh, one suggestion is to describe a character during dialogue. After giving a brief description, let some character behaviors address their descriptions. For instance, a character can flip her long, blonde hair while speaking, the man talking to her can blink his green eyes rapidly, their friend might be standing tall over the both of them as they chat.
Punctuation! Theres a comma somewhere between me them and her…
Sorry for the silly example above, but yes, add those commas. I am not an expert at this and honestly, there is a thin line between too much and not enough punctuation. One thing I can say though, when I started “listening” to my books during editing, I quickly realized where I needed to put punctuation. This one is actually in the remove list too, so sit tight!
Playing it safe means: “He almost always walked to school.” I think this could also go in the remove area too, because you have to make a choice here. You have to add those definites and remove those indefinites. There is indeed a time and place for them, but usually, they can go. You , the author, are in charge of what happens in your story, so you are allowed to say if “He always” or if “He never walked to school.” Might not be the most eloquent, but there you go. lol. Oh! One more thing, sometimes “almost always” has a place, but it should be REALLY useful if you’re going to include it. Don’t use those types of phrases willy nilly. Give them purpose.
Crazy dialogue tags! He yelled, she shrieked, Billy mumbled.
Most articles suggest removing them because they cause readers to stumble over the tags. “Said” is something a reader recognizes and can easily ignore. I know, I know, the idea is we don’t want readers to ignore anything in our books but words like “said”, help readers slide through our novels without interruption. In short, all readers need is who said it. Michael sai… and readers can move on to the next bit of dialogue or narration. Adding those mumbles, shrieks and sighs after the dialogue tag is perfectly fine.
Filter words! Looked, seemed, sounded like… and many more!
Susan Windsor Freeman wrote an EXCELLENT article on the topic and I suggest reading it because it has detailed explanations. Here is a quick list of filter words that you should remove from your writing.
- to think / thought
- to touch
- to wonder
- to watch / watched
- to look / locked
- to hear/ heard
- to see / saw
- to seem
- to feel (or feel like)
- to sound (or sound like)
- to decide
The reason we remove these words is because they “filter” the readers experience through the characters point of view, Freeman says. It’s kind of like show vs. tell. These words make it easier for us to “tell” what the character is experiencing. When we remove them, we are more inclined to “show” and this helps readers create personal reactions and emotions to what they are reading.
Punctuation! There’s a comma, somewhere, between me, them, and, her.
Get the point? lol. Too many commas! Getting the balance right and understanding the rules is vital. Also, this is why I use an editor. There are a lot of rules, but don’t put the pressure on yourself to remember all of them… just the important ones.
A lot of nothing! Walking down the stairs with great care, is the same as carefully.
Delete superfluous and repetitive words and phrases. I understand that lots of authors are told to avoid adverbs (-ly words) including myself, because they are just as limiting as filter words. My example includes an adverb but the fact remains, it’s typically better to trim away some of those extra words to make our writing more concise and easier to read.
So! Get to work! Editing is hard but it’s even harder if you don’t polish your manuscript before sending it off to a professional.
Lemme know some quick and dirty self editing tips you use!