Editing: What the Professional Writer Needs to Know

12th July 2023
3 min read
17th July 2023

In this new extract from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2024, editor Dea Parkin highlights some of the pitfalls to be alert to as you edit your writing.

Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2024

Self-editing: what to look out for and amend:

• Reporting (telling) instead of showing us live action as it happens to your characters.

• Protagonists not having agency, so things happen to them because of others or because of chance; it’s their own decisions and actions that should drive the plot.

• Starting too early in a story and showing too much ‘status quo’ before we get to the inciting event.

• Chunks of exposition that would be better removed or distributed through the text more subtly.

• Spending too long on elements that don’t contribute to the storyline or characterisation.

• Telling the story too distantly and therefore not sufficiently investing your reader in the characters.

• Trying to show the story from too many different viewpoints. Whose story is this? Whose chapter or scene is this? Why? Work it out, and then stick to your decision.

• Words such as just, really, rather, quite, slightly, actually, and especially then and now; cut these as much as possible. Then is often redundant because the chronology is implied by describing one action followed by another.

• Remove filter words: identify instances where you can delete she knew, he felt, it seemed, to write more directly and powerfully in a character’s head.

• Repetition of the subject in a sentence with multiple clauses, unless for emphasis. It is best to use as few words as necessary.

• Confusion between they’re, there and their, and words such as wave/waive, rein/reign.

• Spelling compound words like postcard or goodbye inconsistently – as two words here and one word there. Check the dictionary for which words are open compounds (two words, such as no one), closed (one word) and which are hyphenated words. For the rules on hyphenation, see New Hart’s Rules (OUP).

• If in doubt whether a word takes an initial capital, the rule is only to capitalise it if it’s an actual (proper) name. Seasons, for example, don’t take a capital: spring is not the same as Paul.

• Ensure there’s a hard page break at the end of each chapter. Use a header with your name and the title. Number your pages.

Dea Parkin is founder and Editor-in-Chief at editorial consultancy Fiction Feedback. She works with freelance editors to provide a service encompassing developmental editing and copy-editing, as well as critiques, to writers who want to get published. Dea is also coordinator at the Crime Writers’ Association and oversees the CWA Debut Dagger and Margery Allingham Short Mystery Prize. She is a published poet and writer of fiction. For more information see www.fictionfeedback.co.uk and follow her on Twitter @DeaWriter

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