effective editing: Three – challenge, compare, and contain

This is the last segment in the series…and we’ve finally come to Proofreading, Copyediting, and Fact Checking! I know, all the posts seemed to revolve around Developmental/Project Editing and Rewriting or the parallel Substantive/Structural Editing. That’s because the very last thing to consider is Proofreading, Copyediting, and Fact Checking or what many call Line Editing.




One– dialogue

Two – rhythm and reason

Three– challenge, compare, and contain

Before we head on, let’s take a quick peek in the rear-view mirror:

The first thing I did was get us on the same page; words and phrases appear to have interchangeable terms but they are different. In the post, It’s not Terminal, or is it? I established a familiarity with lingo, and an editing hierarchy pyramid.

Moving on to ABCs and 123s, I shared an exclusive anagram aid to recall and apply, summing up the whole editing process.

In A is for Action, I recommended Freytag’s Pyramid as a convenient tool, and reminisced about that handy five-paragraph term paper formula.

While describing methods in The Bs have it, I introduced clarification and consistency as subcategories for the Benefit of Action.

The next post tackled Characters by asking What do you C? , suggesting dimension to fashion fully developed individuals.

Then, as Halloween approached, I added creative zing to dialogue and point-of-view as One Disguise.

Approaching Two – Rhythm and Reason, I proposed cutting anything that did not move the Action forward: Actions Benefit Characters.

Today, Three – challenge, compare, and contain, dispenses with discrepancies on a linear level. Chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. Methodical editing. This is when you run a fine-toothed comb over it all. Done are the chunking, rearranging, and major plot revisions. Done too, are the character illuminations.

Now you can have *yawn* the tedious pleasure of reading your work as a whole. An oxymoronic phrase, but many have regarded line editing as tedious. Au contraire, I believe it is fun! A way to reveal strengths and weaknesses about your writing, and then like a downloadable upgrade, provide a way for you to have a stronger, better, and faster piece! The six million dollar man(uscript)! 😉

This is stage to examine your efforts on the computer. Even if you’re a die-hard hand-writer, the only way you can apply the next editing technique is if you ‘find’ using whatever processor tool on your computer. What you’re looking for is pet words, overused, extra, vague, and weak words. Some of my pet words are just, that, now, need, know, and but. Other words may pop up if I am working on a particular subject. For instance, I don’t want to use ‘writing’ a dozen times in this post, so I’ll replace it with various synonyms.

With those words, I limit myself. Like breaks, they should be few and far between. You’ll discover some of your own, as you dissect the paragraphs. As a basic guide, try to omit any appearing on the same page, because creative word choice is what you’re after.

Not only does this strengthen your sentences, but you’ll notice the next project you write won’t have as many of those words. ‘Finding’ the words also engages you in a different level of editing. You’re examining the word, the placement and usage, thereby taking your output up a notch.

While this step is time-consuming, it is vital. On how many occasions have you read repeated words, which were unnecessary, deflating attention from the actual piece? Think of these recurring expressions as four-letter utterances. Would you litter your manuscript with expletives when stronger, specific words will do the trick? You save those for special emphasis. So too, should these, and any others you may view as pet, overused, extra, vague, and weak words.

Some common words to replace:

about (adv. or preposition)

after (adverb, preposition or conjunction)

although (conjunction)

and (conjunction)

but (conjunction)

few (noun/pronoun or adj.)

how (adv. or conjunction)

just (adv. or adj.)

know (trans. or intransitive verb)

need (trans. or intransitive verb)

now (adj. or conjunction)

only (adv.)

quite (adv.)

same (noun/pronoun or adj.)

several (adj.)

so (adv.)

some (adv., adj. or pronoun)

still (adj.)

sure (adj.)

than (comparative adv. or adj. , or conjunction)

that (noun or adj.)

then (adv. or adj.)

this (pronoun or adj.)

though (adv. or conjunction)

through (preposition)

Once you’ve fortified your writing, you’re ready for the last edits! Print out your text, and *nodding head* read your work aloud, from the last sentence to the first. Start at the end, read the sentence, then the one above it. Go to the sentence preceding. Read it. On and on.

Some things you’re watching for are: punctuation, subject/verb agreement, consistency of voice, consistency with point-of-view and formatting, plus word choice. Remember the beefing up you did when you replaced pet, overused, extra, vague, and weak words? All those changes need to make sense in the big picture, the sentence should be logical.

Mark notes as you move along. Crazy? No way! You’d be surprised how many errors you’ll catch. One of the oldest tricks in the book is to edit this way. Our mind has a habit of “reading” words that may not be present. To counter, you must take your concentration out of the path, and adjust it to see what is really on the page.

Here’s an example from the beginning of ‘Willa’, Stephen King’s  Just After Sunset  short story, (Pocket Books, division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2008):

“You don’t see what’s right in front of your eyes, she’d said, but sometimes he did. He supposed he wasn’t entirely undeserving of her scorn, but he wasn’t entirely blind, either. And as the dregs of sunset faded to bitter orange over the Wind River Range, David looked around the station and saw that Willa had gone. He told himself he wasn’t sure, but that was only his head—his sinking stomach was sure enough.”

Even though it’s the first paragraph, for sample purposes, imagine this is the end of the story. The approach I’m advising begins with the last sentence, “He told himself he wasn’t sure, but that was only his head—his sinking stomach was sure enough.” Check it for accuracy. Hopefully King’s editors did. 🙂 But you see where I’m going. Line by line you’re applying the polish and then buffing it, making it a true masterpiece: an original beauty.

My goal has been to offer ways you can become a writer who effectively edits. 

Some of the questions I tackled:

How do you begin editing?

Are there steps or methods to apply in editing your own work?

How can I tell if a character lacks dimension?

What is the big deal about point-of-view?

What is meant by transition?

When is it okay to use the passive voice?

Plus you discovered my secret passion for math, hence the pyramids, that I’m a geeky word lover, and I enjoy organizing thoughts, phrases and things in general.

I pinky-swore you’d learn something. Here’s your opportunity to sound off…did I meet my goal? Please share your thoughts. Not only will you help me, but you’ll also be entered into the great giveaway. Check out the rules here…  

Since this is the last post, comments added, up until midnight EST on November 23, 2012 on any post in the series, will be entered into the drawing. Members of the Savvy Wordsmiths, an SCBWI writing group, have agreed to conduct the drawing on December 14. Details and pictures of the event will be posted after the winners are notified.

 Catch the series:

 effective editing intro

effective editing: it’s not terminal, or is it?

effective editing: ABCs and 123s

effective editing: A is for Action

effective editing: The Bs have it…

effective editing: What do you C?

effective editing: One Disguise

effective editing: Two – Rhythm and Reason

images by Roxie Hanna, all rights reserved


  1. I appreciate the links, too. (I missed your thoughts on when it’s okay to use passive voice, but I’ll keeping looking back.)

    Your series helped me keep in mind how many other aspects there are of a writer’s work than just finding the time to get the story ‘down on paper’. That’s always a good thing. Thanks!

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