Taught by Carol Brennan King

More Golden Rules of Editing

  1. Presentation.  Editing should make your work come across as more professional, readable and effective. Unless a specific literary agent or editor tells you otherwise, double space your writing, keep 1-inch margins and use a clean 12-point font such as Times New Roman or Arial.  NEVER try something fancy to catch the publisher or agent’s attention. It will, but not in a good way.

2. Start strong. If you want a shot at publishing, start strong on page one. Or even if you are writing for your family, do it right. Start strong right out of the box. A tip on starting strong: Make sure your first pages do the following.

  1. move your reader; ask yourself, will my reader feel something? What do I have here that makes them want to keep reading?
  • establish a scene. Can they see everything necessary to the story?
  •  create conflict. Even if it is a small conflict, you need something to keep the reader reading, to find out why or how or where or what’s next.
  •   or generate a mystery – possibly all three. This is why so many literary agents and editors detest prologues. A prologue is all backstory, and backstory typically doesn’t deliver these elements.

 What’s true is this: we see a lot of stories come through our slush pile that start with prologues, and 9 out of 10 times, they’re not necessary.” editor Angela Addams

  •  Write it so that your reader is in the present, the immediate narrative moment. Perhaps think of them in the audience or just off-stage watching it all, but not knowing what happens next and wanting to.

3. Show vs. tell. Yes, I know you have heard me say this a lot – we all know this golden rule. We have talked about this a lot in class, but it is worth looking at again, and maybe closer.

  1. Tell (when you have to) or show the reader just what they need when they need it. In other words, don’t load them up with information or lengthy descriptions when those words will not advance the story.
  • Watch for those mini-paragraphs when you fall back into down-loading a lot of information about a new character. Show them through action. If the person is 6”5’ and weighs 300, show them ‘shutting out the sunlight’ when they walk into the house or room or ???
  •  Don’t have characters tell or give information the character would not say that way…stay true to the character’s voice and background. They should not sound like you, but like themselves reflecting the background culture and family and history you have given them.
  • Read it out loud, and to an audience or person who if possible who will tell you the truth, not just say, “That was great.”

You need someone who wants you to succeed as a writer and is willing to say the hard things you need to hear, even if it might hurt your feelings, in order to make the work better.

Muttering it to yourself is not nearly as effective. Your brain will fix errors while you read. Read it out loud using a hard copy and with a pen or pencil to make changes as you note them.

5. Trust “Said.” Remember people cannot laugh or frown or sneeze or yawn words.

And remember, if it is clear who said what, you don’t need a tag with every speech.

A tip on using dialogue tags effectively: Use “said”

nine out of 10 times. It’s that simple.

6. Do not overuse italics, exclamation points, metaphors, or profanity. They become ineffective when over-used and are the mark of an inexperienced writer. You might use italics for a word in a foreign language.

Some people like to try to use them for thoughts, but it is very hard to be consistent there. If you use the thought-life of your character(s) and you use italics to show it, be consistent here. You might want to do a read-through just to check that consistency.

Treat exclamation points like gold. Let your choice of great words show the fear or excitement over the use of an exclamation point.

7. Read closely once for this purpose: what do you have in there that is not important to the reader or the story. Be ruthless here. You might have a beautifully written paragraph or even piece of action, but if it could be taken out and no reader would ever miss it, take it out. The key is every word must advance the story.

8. Read once for spelling. Spell checks will not catch your typos that have turned into real words: was/saw     form/from  Some writers read the piece from the bottom up when checking for spelling.

Avoid the temptation to skip this step. You will regret it. I have.


We also talked about Grammarly today, a great tool for both the writing and editing process. For some writers, it is better to leave Grammarly turned off while you write. Otherwise the corrections that will pop up may distract you and break your train of thought. Others may have reached the point where those pop-ups are like flies you hit at but don’t really notice.

Either way, know what works for you. And I recommend that you give

Grammarly Keyboard 

Type with confidence

Grammarly, Inc

a shot. You can get a free version. I am using that now. But you also might feel like investing in one of the payment options when your manuscript is ready for a real editor, one who breathes air and charges for the editing.

Two more weeks on editing in this class, and then we take a break.

We will resume our original Creative Writing Class on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 10 am -12 noon via Zoom.

Our Memoir/Nonfiction Class will also resume Septemberr 9, 2020. We will be meeting from 1-3pm, also via Zoom.

Contact Linde Maurer at the Abington Community Library to register and get your passwords.

For more help, go to https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/revision-grammar/self-editing/

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