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Polishing your manuscript for blinding shine

"To write is human, to edit is divine." Stephen King

Now that my book, UNWRITTEN, has been purchased, I have an actual deadline to deliver the very best version I can to my editor.

This is nerve-wracking. Terrifying and exciting all at the same time.

I confess I like editing. I'm a ruthless editor. Which helps me sometimes and hurts me on other occasions. I've cut manuscripts to the bone, where I had to add back material. I went too far and lost my self. So I've learned a few things by now.

I find there's joy in reworking a sentence to a third of its length with the meaning unchanged and its impact multiplied. Or I'm just a geek and it is only me :-)

Have fun revising!

Editing is a multipass effort. Read with a singular focus each time to get the best results. Highlight small errors if you must but do not address them unless relevant to your goal.

Please note these tips are a final and not an initial edit.


  • Read for plot: Create a map of your scenes. One box per scene in the order in which it appears. Each scene has one sentence only. Even if more actions happen, write up the most important one and the one that pushes the plot forward. You are looking for cause and effect at a high level. I use Drawio or mindmap for this. Scrivener has a board view that might work or you could go reliable post-its or cards. Some people prefer to print an outline with sentences per scene. I find the visual more enlightening. The map will not only expose your progression through the plot but serve to highlight any holes. Make sure you review it from beginning to end. Get a feel for the ups and downs and the big whys. If you had only these sentences to tell your story would it make sense? What would be missing? Is the central conflict clear from setup through resolution?

  • Check your timeline: Go scene by scene and create a timeline to make sure your progression in time makes logical sense. Are there too many actions in one day? Does enough time pass between A & B, etc. I like to use any free online timeline maker for this but pen and paper or a whiteboard work well too. I've heard of people adding characters and settings during this step to ensure variation and that no character gets lost. You can do that during timeline or create a different chart for that. It is especially useful when there are many characters and many locations in your manuscript.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.- Stephen King

  • Trim the pretty fat: Also known as kill your darlings. You might need a chop saw. During this pass, you will delve at a deeper level. We're now focusing on scenes. The question to ask is: do I absolutely need this. Go scene by scene and write down the motivation, conflict, forward thrust action of each—how does this scene push characters into the next one and furthers the plot? If the scene doesn’t have a compelling forward thrust, you might have to cut it. Note that exposition or exploration alone is not enough to make a scene necessary. Consider sacrificing it and redistributing any necessary information elsewhere.

  • Clean up your language: We've arrived at the detailed level. Grab your scissors; it's time to cut for language. Mistakes, word use, incorrect grammar, unclear meaning, sentence structure, and wordiness. While reading for those pay special attention to repetition: both words and similar sentences, such as phrases that begin the same way within a paragraph, or have a comparable rhythm and length (unless you're doing this on purpose). Remember that variety adds interest. Finally, check for unnecessary adverbs (most), weed words, and filter words.

  • Dialogue: This can be done together with the language pass. A great recommendation is to read your dialogue aloud. You will hear what sounds unnatural. When polishing dialogue watch for unnecessary yes, no, thank-yous, etc. Things we say in real life that are implicit and don't need to be spelled out. Also, check your repeated meaning: He nodded. "yes, we should do that." A nod implies a yes. Cut up your dialogue if it goes on too long. Dialogue is the beat of your novel. Keep it moving. Now, watch your dialogue tags (remember said is almost without exception the only one acceptable in our modern times). Consider whether any could be either eliminated or replaced with action bits. If you have created mannerisms and funny hats this is a great place to incorporate them.

So that's it, folks. I don't presume to be an expert, but this list is distilled from many reads and a lot of trial and error. Let me know if you have any other big things that I missed.

Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.- Patricia Fuller

Dare always. Keep writing. Alicia

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