How to edit a story?

Writing stories is not an easy task -- not everyone can do it, and certainly not everyone can do it well. It doesn't mean the first draft has to be perfect, though. As author James D. MacDonald said: You're allowed to write badly. First drafts only. As the cliche goes: Most stories are not written; they're re-written.

After the first draft, check for the following problems and fix them:

1. Starting with descriptions of place or person with no dramatic tension

2. Starting with a big bang. Then the rest just frizzles, or we don't really care because we don't know the players yet

3. Failure to put a character in a situation or present a problem or conflict or dilemma

4. Lack of suspense or momentum -- either everything has been laid out in the beginning, or nothing is revealed through the piece or at the end

5. Cliches -- characters ("the beautiful blonde debutante" or the "tall, dark, and handsome ranch help"), dialogue ("Go ahead, make my day!" he bellowed), phrases ("I have frog in my throat" or "it sent a shiver up my spine"), plot (boy and girl meet cute...), purple prose

6. POV problems -- head-hopping, random POV shifts, subtle POV violations -- that shows the lack of knowledge and control

7. Pacing -- too snappy (too much dialogue and no descriptions) or too slow (too much detail)

8. Overuse or misuse of dialogue tags (he screamed, she laughed, they responded, she retorted, he reported, she smiled...)

9. Illogical or awkward flow -- the story doesn't flow well; the sentences are choppy or overwrought; the paragraphs don't make logical sense, etc.

10. Redundancy -- dialogue ("I'm tired," he said, yawning, "I'm really tired. I worked sixteen hours today so I am tired."), prose (do we need to hear you describe how tired Mr. Smith is, three times?), adjectives/adverbs ("she was beautifully radiant, absolutely gorgeous" or "It's as clear as the summer sky in July")

11. Too much internal monologue or thoughts -- it's not particularly interesting how the person thinks or feels, especially without a real situation or problem or conflict; but if you're showing his reaction to a conflict, sparse use of internal thoughts may add to the character's depth. But please, don't overdo it

12. Poor mechanics -- grammar, spelling, punctuation, overtly long sentences, too many fragments, too perfect, too sloppy, etc.

13. Info dumping

14. Bad dialogue -- cliched, stilted, info dumping, too long, too grammatically correct, talking head, trivial dialogue...


sammyray said…
Thank you for the compilation of common mistakes! When you find yourself in the middle of a manuscript, falling into these traps happens so easily!

I hope everything is going well with your new book!!!
oneoftwo said…
Thank you! We do appreciate you.
Anonymous said…
I like your writing tips!

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Ray Wong said…
Thanks Dawn! Great to see you here.

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