Editing is the very last step of the writing process. At this stage, your story is complete and needs polishing, but how do you identify what is needed in a story and what isn’t? How do you know the quality of your writing is worthy of being published? We will explore many common story elements to edit, while listing out the common pitfalls that people may trap themselves in while editing.

What do I edit?

Grammar and Sentence Structure

Grammar can make or break a story. A lot of what attracts people to your story will be your writing style, and how easy of a read it’ll be. It’s no surprise that a lot of readers turn away from stories that contain bad grammar or plenty of confusing sentences.

Editing the grammar sometimes takes more time than writing the actual story simply because you have to double-check over and over. Looking up words in a dictionary or asking someone to sit down and proofread it could help tremendously. There are no real shortcuts here, the way to improve your grammar is by knowing how to write, which takes practice. Be diligent, patient, and make sure every line of the story is a simple and wonderful to read.

Not only are you making sure the actual spelling is correct, but you want to root out those awkward and confusing lines from your story, some of which may have no grammatical errors, but they could take away from the reading experience. Read your text out loud, and if you find yourself stuttering or backtracking a sentence because you got lost, imagine how a reader must feel. Simply rewrite problematic sentences without losing detail and you’ll improve the quality of your work without changing the substance.

Using programs like Grammarly or a word processor are one of the easier ways to help you edit; however, you can’t always trust a program to do the work for you. While it is very efficient and does some of the legwork, it is also prone to mistakes, and can’t really tackle confusing or awkward sentences.

Story Fluff

Story fluff are those scenes or narrative interruptions that don’t serve to forward a story, but to embellish it. A lot of people have issues with writing fluff, because when they first write it down, it might seem to enrich their settings or characters, however, it could ultimately be overdone, take away from the pace of the story, and turn away readers.

The trick is to not break the pace of your story. It’s hard to read your own work from the perspective of a reader, which is why having someone less involved in the writing of your story read it may help you a lot. If these extra scenes don’t serve to forward the plot or the reader’s understanding of the character or their development, don’t include it.

Story fluff, however, can be more than just a simple scene; it could be entire characters or subplots. Some of the best stories have their subplots or characters go through a boring phase, however, if that phase doesn’t end, then it might be time to revise it. This is a worst-case scenario event, and you can either put in the effort to salvage these story elements, or cut them out completely. The last thing you want is for readers to put down the story and not come back to it.

Dialogue

Surprisingly, dialogue is more complicated than a lot of writers realize. Sometimes dialogue feels awkward and unrealistic, as if no actual human would ever say something that way unless they were joking. For obvious reasons, this could take the magic away from your epic one-liners or monologues, leaving readers bored, or even worse, laughing at a serious scene that was meant to evoke a different emotion. So, how do you make sure your dialogue sounds human?

One way is to actually just read it out loud. You can even involve someone you know to take part in the verbal exchange and act it out to the best of your ability. If reading it out loud makes the dialogue feel awkward or forced, imagine how the reader will feel. Not only is this way great to see whether your dialogue is good or not, you can also try and improvise new dialogue on the spot. Just remember the objective here: make dialogue sound natural, as if it was actually something a human would say.

Another way is to examine acclaimed movies that fit the genre you’re writing in. Take a look at how people interact with each other, what words they say, where the pauses are. You’ll be able to take away some semblance of how humans interact with one another and it will be a great learning experience—but only if you feel entertained. That’s the way you want your readers to feel!

Editing Traps to Avoid

Endlessly Editing the Story

If you are consistently stuck editing the same paragraph or chapter over and over again, you may be stuck in an endless editing loop, which could even be a sign of writer’s block. This loop can take up precious time and resources, and you may never be satisfied with what you’re editing. If you have a specific scene you can’t stop editing because it doesn’t feel right, here are a few methods you can use to get out of the endless editing loop.

  • Take a breather. Sometimes it’s not about not being good enough, sometimes it’s because you’re immensely tired and you need a fresh perspective. Go for a walk, get some air and come back with an open mind.
  • Reanalyze what you want to happen in that scene. Draw out a small list of events, all in order, and make sure that you get the bones of the story before you get the flesh. Make sure to focus on what’s important to the scene and its place in your story as a whole.
  • Draw inspiration from something like a movie, song, or book. Research other scenes like yours, and think about how your characters would be better represented in your story’s context. Sometimes, the issue is simply that we fail to connect with our characters when we need to most.

Deconstructive Second Opinion

Often times, we advised you to ask others to help you edit your story, whether that’d be grammar or dialogue. However, these second opinions could be changing more than what they were meant to.

Proofreading and deconstructive criticism are two different things. Proofreading is when someone is there to correct and assist you in things that don’t seem right in the writing. However, someone with a deconstructive second opinion may want you to change certain elements of your story—such as the ending, a plot, a character, etc—simply because they have a creative difference.

These may be good suggestions, so keep an open mind. However, remember that you’re venturing in territory that isn’t editing, but story writing, so if you’re fully satisfied with your story and all its elements, proofreading might be something more valuable to you.

You're Writing More Story Instead of Editing

Editing a story is the final step in the writing process. If you find yourself writing more stories, adding paragraphs of text, new ideas or characters, you might be writing more story instead of editing what you already have.

This isn’t a bad thing, it only means that you may not completely be done and satisfied with your story as a whole. If you get a spark of brilliance half way through your editing, go back to writing your story and integrating that new idea. Then, go back to editing.

By maintaining this habit of writing more as you edit, you could inadvertently be either writing fluff which you’ll have to edit out later on, or set yourself up to endlessly edit and re-edit your story.