Monday, 7 March 2016

Seven Editing Tips from Miranda Kate #ChaBooCha

Note from Becky: At this point in time, you should be writing your stories without pausing for the editing process until later. But it doesn't hurt to keep some of these tips in mind while you are writing your first drafts. Besides, this is the perfect post subject right now because tomorrow (March 8th) is National Proofreading Day

Seven Editing Tips 

Whether you are writing your very first novel or your fiftieth, you are starting a process. And writing the first draft of your novel is the first step in this process. 

This is the time to write with complete abandon, only paying attention to the story, plotline and what your characters have to say; let it all pour out, because this is the easiest step. The next one is where the hard work begins – editing your novel.

Most writers edit their novels several times. They use beta readers to read through it and give them feedback, and professional editors to help tighten their writing and make the story the best that it can be. But before they bring other people in, they go through it themselves first.

Editing in itself has its own process, and many writers struggle to know where to begin. I recommend that once you have finished your first draft, you leave it for a while. How long is up to you: a few days, a week, some prefer months or years, but give it time to rest in your mind as well as on paper, so that when you pick it up again, you can look at it through fresh eyes. 

And what should you be looking for?

Well besides the standard typos, grammar and punctuation – like making sure you know the difference between there, they’re and their; when to use it’s and its; or the difference between a comma and a full-stop and when to use them – here are a few things worth checking.


This applies to the plot of your story, the timeline, background, and details of your characters. For example, I realised at the beginning of one of my novels I had said a character’s child was called Amber, but later changed it to Daniel without realising. I’d not only changed the name but the gender as well! And another character referred to an event that hadn’t happened at that point. Picking up on these inconsistencies and correcting them is crucial.

Consistency also applies to spellings of names and places. If they can be spelt more than one way, pick one and make sure you stick with it throughout. I read a book once where the spelling of a character’s name kept changing. It confused me and I wondered if it was a different character.

Then there is consistency in formatting and layout. Things like indenting the paragraphs or leaving a line between; using quotation marks (single) or speech marks (double); using a dash: should it be long or short? Should there be spaces round it or not? Using numeric numbering or spelling out the numbers? All of these are the writers’ choice, but the important thing is to pick one and stay with it throughout the novel.


Consider the tense you are writing in. It can be quite easy to slip from present into past (is vs. was), or from simple past tense into past perfect tense (was vs. had been) in the same paragraph.

People struggle to know how and when to move from was to had been, or sometimes juggle between the two, not realising that they might be making a mistake. It occurs most often when writing flashbacks or referring to an event that happened a long time ago. I tend to find that the more recent events work best using was, and the further back, using had been.

Sometimes flashbacks can be written in Present tense, but these are usually denoted by a scene break or chapter break and are not what I mean here. I mean when you slip into different tenses within the same paragraph. It’s worth being aware of.


A common problem is the repetition of words. This can be in the use of descriptive words as well as in using connecting words, like that, and, or but. We all have favourite words we like to use, and it can be hard to notice them ourselves. It’s why using beta readers and editors helps.

I also watch out for similar sounding words in the same sentences or paragraphs, even if spelt differently. For example:

With a sudden flash, the sword broke the surface. It soared upwards through the rising steam, turning end over end.’

Here I would have chosen another word to replace sword or soared.

And if a descriptive word has been used in a previous paragraph on the same page I will endeavour to find an alternative.

Dialogue Punctuation

Punctuation in dialogue can be tricky. There are a lot of hard and fast rules about how to punctuate around a dialogue tag (the word you use before/during/after a line of dialogue to denote who is speaking, e.g. said Sheila). Here are a few of them:

Lines of dialogue that are followed by a dialogue tag that denote the character has actually spoken, such as: said, continued, muttered, replied, answered, spoke, interrupted, snapped, spat, snarled, wailed, whispered, should ALL end in a comma before the dialogue tag. For example: ‘It’s hot in here,’ said Reggie.

When a sentence is broken by a dialogue tag and continues after it, a comma is used after both the first part of the sentence AND the dialogue tag. For example:  ‘If we’re going to do this,’ Doreen whispered, ‘we’re going to have to do it fast!’

Sometimes the speaker of a piece of dialogue is denoted by an action or facial expression before, after, or during a line of dialogue. If that is the case then it should have a full-stop at the end of it, NOT a comma. For example: Pauline handed him a brochure. ‘Take one, have a look at it and come back to me.’

I find that once I know how to punctuate dialogue correctly, I use it automatically when I write, making it easier when editing.  If you are ever unsure about the punctuation you are using, always check.

You can find more examples on my blog


Head-hopping is a term used when a writer jumps from one character’s point of view to another character’s point of view within a single scene, so the reader witnesses both character’s thoughts about the same event or moment in time.

Most people write in first or third person view point, and it has become acceptable to swap between the two in a novel to follow more than one character. But the changeover has to be defined by a chapter break or scene break.

Head-hopping differs from a view point change in that it occurs in the same paragraph or scene, which can confuse the reader. They are distracted from the story by the interruption of a second character’s thoughts and feelings. It can disrupt the flow, making the story difficult to follow and possibly result in the reader disengaging.

For example:

Randy wished Marybeth would stop flirting with other guys to get his attention; it made him feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. As he watched her fling her arm round another one of his mates he felt stupid, although he laughed it off. She pulled his friend in for an embrace knowing she could never like him as much as she did Randy, but it was fun to tease.

We swap from Randy’s feelings to Marybeth’s in the same paragraph. It comes as a jolt as we realise we are no longer looking through Randy’s eyes at the end.

Separating the viewpoints by chapter or section break would improve this.

Info dumping

Information dumping is when you give a lot of information about a character, a location, over describe something, or go into too much detail. It can break or interrupt the flow of the story.

If you are building a scene with suspense or tension and then suddenly decide to tell the reader something about the character’s background at that moment, it can kill it and cause the reader to disengage. It doesn’t mean the information isn’t relevant, but it might be better placed elsewhere.

To avoid this ask yourself: Does this move the story along? Does this add to the story? Is this relevant here? Does the reader need to know this? Does it work at this point? 

Reading Out Loud

And my final editing tip is read your work out loud – especially dialogue.

If you struggle to do that and would prefer it to be read to you, you can use software like WordTalk, which can be downloaded for free and added to your toolbar in Word. I find it invaluable. It picks up missed typos and misspellings that have become invisible to my eyes. And it helps me know if the sentence works or not.


Miranda Kate is a Freelance Proofreader/Editor who loves helping authors with their writing in whatever capacity they need. She is published in multiple flash fiction anthologies. Miranda is currently working on her own novels, but finds editing other writers' stories much more enjoyable.
Find Miranda on twitter at: @PurpleQueenNL
Miranda’s editing services at:
Miranda’s writing blog at:



Today's give-away is a paperback or e-book copy (winner's choice) of Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers by Mary Kole. If you are a signed-up member of ChaBooCha, all you need to do to be entered into the drawing for this book is comment on this blog post. Winners will be selected from a random number generator on March 31st at noon (GMT).


  1. Great tips. Reading out loud is one of my favourite editing tips too. In my first book, I found I had changed the name of the school half way through the story!! Thank goodness for my editor who was able to confirm that I had done it and help with correcting it.

    1. It's vital for me. WordTalk is something I use a lot too now.

  2. Thanks for sharing your editing tips. Early on "head-hopping" was a problem for me. But after spending a great deal of time with my MC, his voice is consistent.

    1. I had no idea about it, until an editor told me I was doing it! Big learning curve.

  3. Always great to keep these things in mind, I'm editing other stories at the moment so this was really helpful. Thanks!

  4. Reading out loud helps me to edit as well. I also have to keep an eye on the head-hopping and info dump issues. Thanks for the great tips and giveaway!

  5. Thank you sharing your tips on editing, Miranda. I find that reading out loud also helps me to edit. I try to keep an eye on head-hopping, although Nora Roberts is noted for head-hopping and I love her books.

  6. Some great tips that I needed to remind myself of. Thank you, especially for the dialogue punctuation.

  7. Thank you for sharing tips that will definitely move my manuscript in the right direction.

  8. Great comments. No matter how much we think we know about all of the tried and true editing tricks, it's easy to overlook them - especially in our own writing!

    1. I spent a long time trying to decide which tips to provide, because you can get bogged down while trying to edit and incorporate everything. I tried to provide different ones.

  9. Thanks for the great tips! I will use these to help as I edit my manuscript.

  10. Thanks especially for that tip of when to use was and when to use had been.

    1. It's a tricky one and one I come across a lot as an editor.

  11. Great list of tips. When I write dialogue I often question whether I'm putting the commas and quotation marks correctly so it's good to have this reminder.

    1. I really had to hunt down information on this, so it is something I now try and highlight a lot for other authors. Simple rules, once learnt are always easy to follow.

  12. I love your tip on word repetition. My CPs and I call them "word echoes".

  13. I'll be saving this post. reading out loud works for me.
    sue twiggs

  14. I clipped this to my Evernote. Excellent tips. Thanks so much, Miranda. Much appreciated.

  15. Wonderful advice! I find that I catch mistakes better when someone reads it aloud to me. I also tend to use commas more often than I think our necessary! Saving this for safe keeping...or should I say...I'm filing this for safe keeping lol Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips!

    1. LOL, good example of word repetition/similar sounding words there! I need to hear mine read to me too, which is why I find WordTalk so handy.

  16. Actually, that's a nice way to explain past perfect tense, but more accurately, past perfect is used when relating the order of events in the past or to describe an action which started in the past and continued until it was interrupted by another action in the past—again, relating the order of events.

    I've never had a difficult time with tenses ... Must be all that sentence diagramming I was forced to do in grammar school.

    Thanks for all the editing tips!

    1. Thanks for clarifying. I struggle with the technicality of them, it is more of a 'feeling' when reading, sort of 'knowing' which to use and when, but hard to put into words. I like your explanation.

      I had a nasty habit of slipping from present into past and back again. So it is something I have had to work on.

  17. This is fab! I suck at editing. this post is absolutely going into my pool room ;) ( aussie slang for it's a keeper

  18. Glad I caught this post. Just when I think I've sussed it, I see your examples and realise I've slipped back into old habits. A fab resource. X