My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip. -Elmore Leonard
Editing is as much of an art and skill as something necessary to good writing. We always hear about how practice makes perfect for writing, while forgetting that people need to practice editing just as much, if not more so.
That being said, here are some things that I look for while I am editing.
Was/Were: Was, or is, or were, is a bad, bad word. I was once told that I had too many in a certain story. I didn’t believe it but I did a search and changed all my wases and weres to 1234567890 and 0987654321 respectfully. (Something not easily replaced accidently, easy to change back for later (like dialogue, although I didn’t realize it then.) and easy to see.) Guess what? I did have a lot. One paragraph had was/were in practically every single sentence. Although it took a lot of work to change some of them, I changed out a lot of them and ended up making my writing much better.
Unnecessary Words: This can be something as simple as you have two similar words next to each other. (“For a moment, he paused, momentarily.”) Or, even silly things like the brown wooden door, since wood is already brown, so you need not specify that.
Weak Verbs: Weak words are things like walked, went, drove, and other words with very little pictures invovled. If I say, “She walked down the hall.” It’s all fine and good. If I say, “She walked quickly down the hall,” it is grammatically correct but only okay still. If I say, “She skipped down the hall,” now we have a picture of how she walked exactly, without the extra word. It also makes the reading much more interesting.
The Most Commonly Used Word: This one is hard because not only does it vary from person to person but it varies from project to project. This word is a word that you use over and over and over again. No, articles do not count.
Example, I kept using the word just in Darkness Swallows. He just wanted to rest a moment. He just only thought of one thing. He just hated how they worked him so hard. When I read it through, I saw them all springing out at me. 1) I did not need most of them.. Adding a just did not make it any more or less good or bad. 2) They cluttered the paper. So I deleted them. Tada!
wrong words: Obviously, I should mention things like your versus you’re and quote versus quota. (Just as a note, sometimes an e and a can look very much alike.) But that I would think is obvious. Just as advise. When trying to figure out which its (or it’s) to use or who’s versus whose, the contraction of is has priority over the possessive form.
spell-checker errors: This is very big in our day of modern computers, although I do much of this step while running spell check. Some words look very much alike. Take material and materiel. Those are both correctly spelled words that my spell checker asks me if I want to choose. But materiEl is military equipment while materiAl is things needed for a task or matter from which things can be made. So I want to buy some material for my skirt. But spell check can mix them up. (Defiantly and definitely are also two words easily to mistake.)
boring or unneeded sections: this one is hard to even know what to do about it and probably deserves a whole post I cannot write due to lack of experience. Let’s just say that if a section does not move the story on or is not really needed, but you just like how it showed Jane and Joe, then remove it or attempt to combine it with another. I also advise, just in case, that you save it somewhere else. I had a whole file titled “[story] extras” filled with deleted scenes, just in case I wanted them back.
To explain, in Shad, I had two, very poor sections. In the first one, Shad is trying to rent a ship and in the second he is being questioned by a reporter. They both dragged on horridly and I dreaded editing them. So, I combined them into one, and the pace kept up, because Shad wasn’t just answering a bunch of questions the reader already knows and the reporter kept springing him with questions when he now didn’t want it. It actually made for one, very decent scene. I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t want to delete the scenes.
Biggest advice on editing I can give is learn to delete. It takes work to know what must be deleted. I read Fahrenheit 451 recently and he wrote some things that I think could be deleted. Would it be as good if he did? Probably not. I think the hardest thing a new writer faces, thought, is they are so happy when they have 80 pages written that they don’t want to see the number drop, when sometimes, their story is much better in a 60 page format.
Also keep in mind that with computers, if something is deleted it’s not gone forever. Play around with it, read it, let others read it, and then decide if it actually comes out better. Usually, it does.