Top 10 Editing Tips for your Final Draft

You’ve read all the great editing books, went through the manuscript at least a dozen times, fixed the largest gaping plot holes and checked your grammar (manually). The beta readers have even given their blessing. Think your epic novel is finally ready? Before you hit the send button, check out these ten pointers to ensure your novel is really ready for publication.

#10 Look for excessive detail of mundane actions

There’s no need to do a play by play when a character washes her hands. I recently read a novel that did this over and over, it was almost like reading stage directions. There’s a reason why no one ever uses the bathroom in the movies. Nobody cares, and it doesn’t add anything to plot. Keep the mundane stuff short or even better, just cut it if you can.

#9 Look for point-of-view (POV) violations

POV violations can be subtle – a simple thought of a love interest can do it. Even if your novel is in third person (if it’s not omniscient) then you should only be able to see the thoughts of the main character.

#8 Look for repetition of monologue and dialogue

If you say it in the internal monologue, there’s no need to also say it in dialogue. Summarize or use non-verbal to convey it to the other person, or just include it in the dialogue and not the internal monologue.

#7 Look for fancy punctuation

By fancy punctuation, I mean anything other than a period or comma. This includes the exclamation point, semi-colon, colon, and parentheses. I didn’t think I had a problem with these until I did a search and found a ridiculous number of them littering my manuscript. Some general rules: If you say, “she exclaimed,” then there’s no need to use an exclamation point. There’s almost no reason to use an exclamation point in internal monologue, it’s over the top. Semi-colons are wonderful, but too many of them are distracting. Same goes for colons and parentheses, they’re unusual enough to take you out of the moment when you come across them.

#6 Look for fancy tags

Fancy tags are also a terrific way to bring you out of the magic world of reading and focus on something that doesn’t matter. “Said” is the most common tag and the job of the tag is to let the reader know who is speaking. When there only two speakers, you don’t even need tags. You especially don’t need tags if you express a character’s thought immediately before or after the spoken sentence, because it’s then obvious who’s speaking. But too many “replied, implied, conjectured, retorted, asked,” and many other exciting ways to say “said” rips the reader out of the story to process the fancy tag. Don’t be afraid of “said.” It’s straightforward and keeps the focus on the dialogue, where it belongs.

#5 Look for your favorite words and phrases

Every writer has something they repeat ad nausem, whether it’s a verb, phrase, or even a dreaded adverb. I had trouble with smiling. Everyone was smiling all the time, and in individual scenes I had characters smiling three or four times. If you don’t know your own favorites, then read one of your longer scenes aloud slowly, that should bring them out in the open. Once you figure out your favorites, use the find feature to see all occurrences. It’s especially important to not have them in close proximity to one another, even if it’s a common word or phrase. Find different ways to express what you’re trying to show but don’t resort to a thesaurus – using a flowery or unusual way to say something simple is pretentious. Unless of course, your book is pretentious, then in that case go right ahead.

#4 Look for common filler words and excessive modifiers

Filler words are words that don’t really add much to the sentence. It’s not the same as spoken filler words like “um, like, er,” unless you really do write them. I find in writing I have the most trouble with: that, I think, I believe, just, and a lot of others. If you can write the sentence without it, it will make your writing stronger. Same goes for modifiers – sometimes, most, only, a little, a lot – all of these should be used sparingly. Speaking of adverbs…

#3 Look for excessive adverbs

Adverbs are the very bane of a writer’s existence. It’s kinda the easy way out, to make it obvious exactly what’s going on, but most of the time they’re not even needed. I see adverbs most often modifying tags, but if the dialogue itself is strong enough, the adverb is superfluous. Easiest way to search for adverbs, just look for “ly.” You don’t have to eradicate all adverbs, but look for opportunities to rewrite without them.

#2 Do a formatting check

Formatting can vary from publisher to publisher, so be sure to follow guidelines. Most involve font/font size, single or double spaced, proper header/footer information and margin sizes. If you have any questions in general as to how your novel should look, you can pop open any published book and see the punctuation and paragraph formatting. There are exceptions in some of the newer novels, but most follow a similar format.

#1 Do one last line edit / grammar check

Always a good idea. Best way? Read it aloud. Have I mentioned that before? Yes. That’s because it’s a great way to find omitted words, homonyms and other nefarious word traps you think are perfectly fine when you read them. Your eyes tend to scan and fill in words you expect to be there. If you take your time reading it aloud, you just might uncover some issues you didn’t see the last time around.

Copyright 2015 Kat Stiles

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Comment by Kat Stiles on May 19, 2016 at 9:27pm

Kelly - That's a great method to use - I find that I tend to get wrapped up in the plot when I go through it normally. 

Comment by Kelly Hayes-Raitt on May 19, 2016 at 1:52pm

Kat, great post!  I always read my work out loud to find my repetitive phrase du jour.  Great tip!  May I add to your Tip #1?  I read my work out loud backwards, reading the last paragraph first and so on up to the top.  This not only slows down my reading so I catch repetitions (can I use "great" again?), missed words, etc, but it gives me a chance to really see how the paragraph holds up without my eye and mind racing through it.

I love Rebecca Ferrel Porter's idea of using a straight edge.  I'll try that!

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
Columnist, The Argonaut

Comment by Kat Stiles on May 19, 2016 at 12:56pm

Patricia - The one thing I do is have my Kindle read it back to me. While that won't necessarily help with the speed of the reading, it can help with the situations where your brain will insert a word that should be there but isn't. Not sure if all Kindles do this - I have a DX and it's listed under experimental features or something odd like that. Plus it's fun to hear that computerized voice mispronounce words. :) If you're lucky enough to have someone else read it to you, that might help too. 

Comment by Patricia Robertson on May 19, 2016 at 12:13pm

Working on doing a read through of one of my novels! Don't know why, but I hate doing this. No, I do know why, I can read so much faster than I talk so I get impatient with my progress. Then I read really, really fast to get through it quicker. Any suggestions for making this tedious part of editing easier. (I do have fun with the dialogue though!)

Comment by Kat Stiles on February 18, 2016 at 11:47pm

Thanks for all the comments, I'm so glad to hear this article is useful for so many. :) Love the idea about a straight edge, hadn't thought of that one!

Comment by Mary Oak on February 17, 2016 at 8:54am

I appreciate having a list of what to check for final edits and this covers a range, thank you. I differ with your view of punctuation though. It may be what acquisition editors are looking for, but it seems a shame to weed out colons, semi colons and exclamation points. Limiting our writing to only commas and periods tones down the writing. 

Comment by Karen K. Hugg on February 16, 2016 at 11:36pm

Thanks for this. Just did a final edit before sending it to an agent and am so glad I did. I I found the word "simply" three times within four chapters and was horrified. (Also found other repetition.) And yes, reading aloud is so valuable. I wrote a blog post on that. What's weird is when I notice repetition when reading published novels. Yikes. Great post. Cheers.

Comment by Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw on February 16, 2016 at 7:27pm
Great tips! Thank you. Reading aloud became part of my final edit after seeing how it improved my flash fiction. An added bonus... my inamorata gets to hear my stories.
Comment by Stephanie Bond on February 16, 2016 at 7:04pm

Great post!  A terrific list to bookmark!

Comment by Lisa Thomson on February 16, 2016 at 3:45pm

Fantastic post. Thanks for these, Kat. I'll be referring to this on going. I'm almost ready to submit my short story collection so the timing of this is perfect, too!


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