Last week, I attended a workshop on editing with some of my writer peeps. It was organised by Inside Voice, a great little outfit that’s organising lots of workshops and writerly events.

Presenter Melanie Saward managed to cram about 6 weeks worth of editing tips into our tiny brains in 90 minutes so the notetaking was fast and furious Firstly, Melanie suggested we subscribe to a couple of literary mags. I’ve started my morning with Overland, an australian literary mag that’s been around since 1954. Then there’s Kill Your Darlings, which is one of my fave writing phrases (my other fave being ‘write drunk, edit sober’ which is not really recomended…) I’ve just looked up Verity La and will head over to have a read of that.

Before I get into it, I’m going to share a little tip I read recently on the web somewhere…(so it must be true…?) Write by the moon. When the moon is waxing (getting bigger) write, when it’s waning (getting smaller) edit.

So it’s Write waxing, Edit waning!

Here are my notes on the workshop.

Melanie suggested we first ask ourselves a question. What are your writing goals?

This is a good question. If you’re not sure where you’re going, it’s hard to navigate but then it can be as loose as something like “I want to write daily for 6 weeks.” This will help to clarify what exactly we want from our writing. My writing goals are to write daily, 1500+ words for the rest of my life. As a consequence of this writing, I would also like to publish and find an audience for my work. (Not knowing where you’re going means you can take any road!)

The she got into the serious editing talk. There are three different types of editing. The first is called the Structural Edit. This is sometimes called The Big One or the substantive edit. This is an edit of the story to make sure it makes sense.

The structural edit is the process that comes first, after a manuscript is completed. It involves looking at the ‘big picture’ elements of the narrative and characters, and examining which of these elements are working and which could be improved, cut or changed altogether.


In the structural or substantive edit the following must be asked.

  1. Does the plot make sense? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?
  2. Voice. Is it consistent? Is it clear? Unique? Interesting?
  3. Characters. Are they well rounded? Do their movements track throughout the narrative?
  4. Dialogue. Is there enough? Is there too much? Does it sound realistic?Is there differentiation between the characters? How are your attributions?
  5. Read aloud to detect pace, modulation, and flow

Use passes to sweep through the manuscript, taking time to look at specific elements of the writing. First, look at showing vs.telling voice. Then dialogue, then transitions.

Show versus tell voice. Balance the shows and the tells – not all tells are bad byt start with a show to engage your reader. In the show voice, use the senses to inform your desciptions.
Dialogue. Attributions are a sticking point with many editors. Remember that said is best and use add verbs sparingly. How realistic is your dialogue? Is there differentiation between each speaker. They should sound unique but this doesn’t necessarily mean using accents and dialects.
Add realism and uniqueness to dialogue by adding things like tangents, repetition, and different speech patterns. e.g.You can use a pet name for a character that only one speaker would use. Dialogue should respond to the action, mood, and pace of the scene. For example, if it is a fight scene, the words could come short and sharp, not in long rambling dialogues from each person. Realistic dialogue doesn’t always mean characters say exactly what they’re feeling sometimes you can create tension by downplaying and having characters lie or avoid. (Or allude! Remember when Hermoine said the love potion smelled like toothpaste, after being at Ron’s house?)
Transitions. The movements into and out of scenes, as well as where you start and end your writing. Leaving a scene early can add resonance. (Read short story, The Three Treasures.) Use transitions to tell a plot and subplot. This modulates showing and telling voice.

Questions to ask
Does my story start in the right place?
Can I end my story in a different place?
Does my plot make sense? Look for deus Ex Machina, using a contrived plot device to achieve the ending you want.

Do I have subplots? If so, do they tie into the overarching plot? Do they conclude or pick up the threads?
Is the right person telling the story e.g. the narrator. A good exercise is to write short stories about each of the characters or try to write a scene from another character’s point of view?
Are my characters realistic do they come alive? Does my story modulate in pace?


Then there is the line or copy edit. I didn’t write down her definition so I found this one on the NYbookeditors website.

line edit addresses the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. But the purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors – rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader.


This is more efficient if the copy is clean! When using an outside editor (i.e. an editor that you are paying!) you want them to pay attention to the important things, so doing sweep after sweep of proofreading to fixe typos, spelling mistakes and obvious errors really helps. The structural edit is overarching but with line editing, we use a magnifying glass.

  1. Interrogate the adverbs. Use the find function to find every word that ends with LY and ask if you really need to describe the verb or could you use the showing voice instead.
  2. Look for repetition of lines and paragraphs.
  3. Sentence structure. How long are they? Are they modulating?
  4. Punctuation. Do I need more? Do I need less?
  5. Grammer. Try not to be too prescriptive. Ask ‘do my sentences read well? Do they make sense?

Then there is proof reading or the Copy Edit. Melanie said that proofreading happens, to some extent, before and/or during all three edits. Errors detected at any stage of the process, whether is be in the structural phase or the line edit should be corrected as you find them, not left for the proof-reading phase.
Just look for errors use every method possible. Changing the font helps! (I’ve heard people swear by this! I was writing my curren WIP in Comic Sans because I’d been told it helps to write comedy in a silly font. My son spotted it and wasn’t impressed! Melanie actually said ‘Don’t use Comic Sans.’ lol)

Feed your document into a text to speech program where it will read your text literally. Follow along with a printed copy to make corrections when needed. Malanie recommended using version control to save previous copies in case you delete something you decide later that you want to keep. Read it aloud or have a friend or family member read it to you as you follow along with another print copy making alterations as you go.

Suggested reading How Writing Works by Roslyn Petelin

Final Tip. Don’t spend a lot of time setting the scene. Throw the reader in the deep end and then tease it out. As a reader, it can be fun figuring things out! Don’t have too much exposition as this is often just a big chunk of tells. If you love the plot but can’t seem to get the story to work, it can help to change the tense, as past tense often results in a lot of tells.

Right…now I am off to edit something…

Feature Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

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