While I keep my checklist in mind while writing/drafting, I don’t focus on it. My last step before sending to beta readers/editors, is to run through my checklist. Where it works, I do a search and replace for words/phrases. I replace them with a highlighted version, so that as I read through, items that need a good look jump out at me. That way I don’t get through an entire chapter and realize I forgot to search for the word “that” or whatever I missed. I’m not super strict about what I fine-tune, only changing things if I feel it improves the writing/adds to the reader’s experience.
Curious what I fine-tune? Here’s my checklist in all its glory. Like I said, this is an amalgamation of various points of feedback/learning as well as bad habits I know I tend towards or areas I’m concentrating on improving.
1. Particular focus on first few chapters
- Don’t introduce your hero/heroine (or most any other character) using their full name – work it in more organically
- Don’t “state” relationships. “His friend, Dale” – work it in more organically
- Work in backstory organically (no long paragraphs of it – don’t mention it at all if can be avoided)
2. Add in more…
- Senses – all 5 senses per every 5 pages
- Clothing descriptions
- Setting descriptions
- Details about the world (see additional checklist) for the big stuff, remember to add in the “little” details:
- How’d it start / history
- Roads / Buildings / Utilities (how , why, use)
- use of technology
- Social services
- Social nuances/meanings/habits/expectations
- Languages, slang, special words
- How people earn a living /work
- Foods – what do they eat? How do they get food?
- What they do for fun
- How they dress
- What the people are like
- Physical descriptions
- Personality traits
- Difference between groups (races, sexes, hierarchy, etc.)
3. Highlight and change/fix/delete as you go (only where it improves the writing)
- Passive-voice signals and can make these more active/interesting verbs
- Words that don’t add much
- and then
- Words I use way too much
- Weak words
- Somewhat, somehow
- Seem, seemed, seemingly
- Be verbs that can be much stronger or paired with stronger nouns
- it is
- there were
- it was
- there was
- Adverbs – use sparingly and only where not using it will tie your sentence into knots
- Ok vs. okay
- Alright vs. All right
- Starting sentences with And or But
- -ing verbs and modifiers – make sure they aren’t overused and make sense (and avoiding passive voice)
- Are my characters doing too much with their eyes?
- Are their eyes (instead of gazes) doing impossible physical feats?
- Do I describe the color of the eyes every time?
4. Read through the chapter & look for
- My habits:
- Sprinkle physical descriptions in there – and TRY to make organic
- Watch for talking heads
- Eliminate most if not all dialogue tags prior to the dialogue
- If you use a $1.00 word, only get to use it once in the book unless it’s part of a character’s trait
- Try not to double up (2 or more for one noun)
- Use “sparingly”
- Sentence length
- Watch for choppy sentences.
- Watch for passages with lots of blank space or no blank space in a row to indicate too much dialogue or too much narrative
- Use he/she instead of their names in the narrative if there’s only one or two there. Don’t need to insert their names so much
- Cut out the small prepositions (She got off
ofthe horse. She backed upagainst a wall)
- Cut out redundant word (ex):
- heart pounded
in her/his chest
- crossed her arms
over her chest
- heart pounded
- Dialogue tags
- Remove if not needed to identify speaker or way they speak
- Avoid the adverb tags where ever possible
- Change emotion tags to action tags when possible
- If the dialogue tag has an -ing verb, almost always better as an action tag with a stronger verb set up
- NO preceding “said” tags – change to action only.
- Include contractions and real speech
I know this seems like a crazy-long list. I will say that I’m still learning. The world-building stuff, for example, is a new part of my list and a goal for personal improvement. I’ll also say, that I’m not strict about these rules. I apply them where they make sense and where I feel they improve the writing/story.
I’m always looking to improve my writing, even in the little details. Fellow writers, I’d love to hear anything from your checklist that’s not listed here!
I do want to give full props. Angela James’s self-editing workshop (Before You Hit Send) – I had my list already going (thanks to years of self-publishing and working with my editor/beta reader Wendy) when I took Angela’s workshop. Her material overlapped with much of the above, but it really helped me fine tune my list. It’s an awesome workshop that goes into more detail and covers more topics and gets in depth. My list is just a tip of the ice burg. If you get a chance to take her workshop, I highly recommend you do.