My Editing Checklist

As my sequel to LIES BENEATH, currently titled WATER LILY, is coming close to completion, I’m on my “final” (insert tongue in cheek) round of edits. This is the part I love. It’s easy. It’s cathartic. It makes everything tidy. This is where I go through and take out all the little fluffy words that add nothing and bog the story down. Here is my personal list of get-out-of-Dodge words.

1. JUST: It just keeps showing up. All I have to do is just open my laptop and within the first three sentences, “just” will show up at least once. Just drives me crazy! You might call this word my verbal tic.

2. ABOUT/ ALMOST: It weakens every idea. Why does he have to “almost smile?” Why is he “about to arrive?” Make the characters act–not almost act.

3. THAT: “I told him that I was leaving.” Get rid of the “that,” and it’s pure poetry.

4. OTHER USELESS THINGS: very, suddenly, so, really–ditch ’em!

5. REDUNDANT PREPOSITIONS: Say he “kneeled,” rather than “kneeled down.” You can’t kneel up, can you? Same thing with stand up, bowed down…

6. ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES THAT DON’T INFORM: I will admit I am a sucker for a good adverb and adjective. They can be surprisingly delicious. But get rid of the ones that do not inform. This is my favorite example I picked up from MUSE (I think Ann Hood?): The phrase “whispered quietly” is a no-no. “Quietly” doesn’t inform. If he’s whispering, it’s quiet. However, “whispered loudly” is gold because the adverb tells us something about the whispering that adds meaning. In other words, use adjectives and adverbs sparingly and when they say something that goes against the norm.

*Confession: I don’t always follow this rule, but I do pause at every adj/adv to at least ask myself if I can do without it. 

7. WATCHING, LOOKING, and LISTENING. Avoid sentences where your P.O.V. character narrates saying, “I watched as John did X.” Because it’s the P.O.V. character, the reader already knows he/she is watching–otherwise he/she wouldn’t know what was going on. “John sliced the bread” is better than “I watched John slice the bread.” See? Same thing with “I listened to John tell a terrible joke.” Just say “John told a terrible joke” and move on.

8. NODDING and SMILING: Here’s where I need your help. When I read my WIPs I have to ask myself, “for crying out loud, why is everybody nodding and smiling?” This is the hardest one for me to overcome. The general advice is to come up with a more interesting verb that actually informs the reader about the character. If you have some brilliant examples of how to show agreement and/or general appreciation (as is easily implied by nodding and smiling), I’m all ears!

Happy Editing!


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13 responses to “My Editing Checklist

  1. Densie

    I was nodding and smiling as I read. 🙂 It’s so hard to get rid of verbal tics, excess adjectives, unnecessary adverbs, etc, or even most of them. I read a comment on a blog today that said the verb “chuckled” should be banned from all manuscripts. I went back to mine, which is 70,000 words in…and there it was, 7 times. Have yet to come up with a worthy substitute. Maybe “he smiled and nodded”?

    • Yep–I saw the “chuckled” one, too, on Writer Unboxed. Paranoia struck. Sure enough, I used it. I kept it for the more villainous characters and simply deleted it otherwise. The word is kind of a funny one any way.

  2. good article. i will go over an entire manuscript looking for the words ~ looked, smiled, and turned.

  3. Erika Liodice

    I’m printing this so I can keep it handy as I tackle my edits. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Really useful editing reminders! As for showing agreement — maybe lifting/raising eyebrows? tilting head? or even saying mm-hmm? (although verbal)

  5. Great resource – thanks so much for posting!

  6. Kate Defrise

    I have the same nodding and smiling problem. This made me laugh and rang so true.

  7. “Thanks for the feedback, everyone!” I said, nodding and smiling.

  8. I loved this checklist Anne! One that I find in my own editing is that I too often modify “said” so that it seems that everyone is speaking sharply or harshly or teasingly. An editor once said at a conference I attended that he wanted characers to simply speak and always removes adverbs after “said”. I still find myself doing it though!

  9. Oh–yep, good point Megan. Dialogue tag modifiers (he said warmly) are hugely out of fashion. If you look at older texts (or a certain popular YA series) they are persistent and prevalent. But your basic “he said,” or “she asked,” or nothing at all is what agents and editors prefer to see these days. Occasionally I will use a “he whispered,” but that’s only when I’m feeling super rebellious.

  10. Great list! I was going over my manuscript the other days and the word “certainly” popped out at me. I didn’t count how many times it was used.WAY too many. LOL. But thank goodness for MS Word’s find and change feature.

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