Hi, everyone! This is the last in a 7-part series about how to rewrite, revise, and edit a novel. I love editing a book, but many people find it overwhelming. However you approach it, the key is to break it down step by step.

We’ve talked about clarifying your character arcsfixing your pacing, increasing your story’s impact, fine-tuning speech and behavior, and the crucial and sometimes scary step of getting feedback from beta readers.

From a copy editing standpoint, we’ve looked at the big stylistic issue of handing dialogue tags.

Today I’m going to share a checklist for smoothing out your writing style even more! Every manuscript has its own strengths and weaknesses, and I can’t promise that if you do all this, you’ll have perfect prose. I can promise that you’ll have much better prose!

Let’s dig in!

 

How to Edit a Novel, Part VII (LAST ONE): A Copyediting Checklist #editing a book step by step #revise a story #writing fiction

 

1. Check your chapter breaks.

You may have already done this, but if you haven’t, take a look at it now. Do the endings of each chapter make you want to keep reading? Is there a better place to break it? Do you have any very short or very long chapters, and if so, would it be better if you broke things up differently?

 

2. Identify, search for, and eliminate or replace many of your “crutch” words and phrases.

Admittedly, this is tricky, your editor at a publishing house (or the editor that you hire before self-publishing) will do a better job of catching these. Everyone has different words and phrases that they often don’t need, but that they use again and again anyway. Some of the likely suspects are:

 

just

so

that

a little

almost

very

really

well

okay

as

suddenly

nearly

clearly

though

although

started to

there is

there are

One way to identify your over-used words is to paste a chapter at a time into a word frequency counter like this one. Please note, however, that there are some words that every writer uses a lot (“the,” “a,” “he,” and “she” come to mind), and that’s fine.

 

3. Identify, search for, and eliminate or replace many of your over-used descriptions, facial expressions, and gestures.

If your characters nod so much that they could be mistaken for bobbleheads (I’ve had this problem before), or you talk about someone’s “chocolate brown eyes” in four different places, you’re going to want to change things up. In some cases, you can just cut the phrase, and in other places, you’ll want to do something else.

A word frequency counter app can help with this one, too. If you’ve used “sigh” three times in a chapter, for instance, there is probably too much sighing going on.

 

 

4. Identify and correct most instances of passive voice.

The passive voice is when the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.

This is the passive voice:

He was hit in the head by a pirate.

This is the active voice, which is usually preferred because it’s more energetic:

A pirate hit him in the head.

Now, let’s be clear: there are going to be times when you want to use the passive voice because it’s clearer or because it makes a great-sounding sentence.

How do you find instances of the passive voice? You can search instances of “was” and read the sentence. Not every sentence with “was” in it is passive voice!

Passive voice:

He was hit in the head by a pirate.

Active voice:

He was in pain.

Even though that second one is in active voice, it’s weak writing. That takes us to the next one:

 

5. Identify and replace weak verbs.

Was, had, felt, and seemed are often weak verbs.

You don’t need to avoid them completely. If you eliminated all instances of “was,” in particular, your manuscript would sound bizarre.

However, wherever you use them, I recommend considering whether there’s a better way to express yourself.

Instead of:

He was in pain.

or

He had a headache.

It might be better to write something like:

His head throbbed.

 

 

6. Identify and fix any breaks in point of view.

You can read all about point of view and “head hopping” here.

 

7. Cool it with the exclamation points.

You may not be the kind of writer who over-uses these, but if you are, you want to go back and chill out in some places. If you’ve put multiple exclamation points anywhere (besides an email, letter, text, or so on), take it down to one exclamation point… otherwise, you’re going to look amateurish. While you’re at it, eliminate any words you’ve put in all capital letters.

 

Do you think this is going to be helpful? Are there other things you always have to fix in editing? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you so much for reading this series. If you don’t want to miss future posts about writing, be sure to follow the blog, if you aren’t already — there’s a place to sign up below. Happy writing, and have a great week!