Editing Workshop


The Questions:

  • Do you edit while you write, wait until you’ve typed ‘The End’, or something in between? Why?
  • Do you start editing right away or do you let the story rest? (Line edit for those who edit while writing)
  • Do you start with the beginning and work your way to the end, or vice versa?
  • Do you go section by section or do the whole thing at once?
  • What do you look for first; character problems, plot holes, etc?
  • Do you use Alpha or Beta Readers? A Critique Group?
  • How do you know when you’re finished editing?

*Please keep in mind, all writing advice and/or rules given are guidelines, and processes can, and do, vary greatly from writer to writer (aka find what works for you)* 

Types of Revision

Macro Issues Medium Issues Micro Issues Line Editing
Story and Structure Pacing Dialogue Repetition
Plot and Stakes Scenes and Goals Descriptions Punctuation
Characters and Point of View Character Growth & Story Arcs Word Usage Spelling
World Consistency Transitions Rhythm and Flow Tenses

Passive Voice & Active Voice

In English, all sentences are in either “active” or “passive” voice.

A few examples will be the easiest way to show the difference between the active voice and passive voice.

Passive Active
The ball was thrown by Billy. Billy threw the ball.
It was raining The rain poured down.
The child was carried in John’s arms. John carried the child in his armsJohn carried the child. Redundancy removed
In a passive sentence, we often omit the actor completely. The uncertainty principle was formulated in 1927. Heisenberg formulated the uncertainty principle in 1927.

In an active sentence, the person or thing responsible for the action in the sentence comes first. In a passive sentence, the person or thing acted on comes first, and the actor is added at the end, introduced with the preposition “by.” The passive form of the verb is signaled by a form of “to be”.

Why Choose Active Voice?

Sentences in the active voice have energy and directness, both of which will keep your reader turning the pages.

Active voice is less wordy than the passive voice, improving clarity and reducing word count. The passive voice shouldn’t be edited out completely; it has its uses too.

When is The Passive Voice Good to Use?

The passive voice can be powerful if you want to place the emphasis on the object of the sentence rather than the subject.

·         You want to be vague about who is responsible: Mistakes were made. The cookies were stolen. It was decided that Steve should be executed. It looks like your car was hit.

·         You are talking about a general truth: Rules are made to be broken. They were all dead.

·         You are using it in dialogue: “She has been told several times,” he said.

And while it can be used anywhere, the goal is use it knowledgeably and with care.

A Bit About Filtering

“Filtering” is when you place a character between the detail you want to present and the reader. The term was started by Janet Burroway in her book On Writing. It’s also known as distancing. Filter words remind the reader they’re reading, explain things that are obvious, and often lead a writer into telling or crafting passive sentences.

Some major culprits are:

to see, to hear, to think, to touch, to wonder, to realize, to watch, to look, to seem, to feel (or feel like), can, to decide, to sound (or sound like), to know.

You might, for example, write:

Sarah felt a sinking feeling as she realized she’d forgotten her purse back at the cafe across the street. She saw cars filing past, their bumpers end-to-end. She heard the impatient honk of horns and wondered how she could quickly cross the busy road before someone took off with her bag. But the traffic seemed impenetrable, and she decided to run to the intersection at the end of the block.

Eliminating the bolded words removes the filters that distance us, the readers, from this character’s experience:

Sarah’s stomach sank. Her purse—she’d forgotten it back at the cafe across the street. Cars filed past, their bumpers end-to-end. Horns honked impatiently. Could she make it across the road before someone took off with her bag? She ran past the impenetrable stream of traffic, toward the intersection at the end of the block.

Finding Your Pet Phrases or Words

Nearly every writer has a few pet or catch phrases or favorite words that get used too frequently. It’s not always the same from project to project but most of us have them. On reading a first draft you may find a lot of characters grinning wickedly, smiling, gritting their teeth, biting their lip, and running their hands through their hair, all the time. These pet phrases can often be found following dialogue tags.

Favorite words can be harder to figure out. And again, they often differ between projects.

A great tool for sussing them out is Wordle (http://www.wordle.net)


Clearly for this project a few of mine are know, back, get, asked, looked, like, need, and one.

This site also counts the number of times words are used, lets you change colours, layouts and fonts, as well as the number of words used to create the picture. It also lets you remove words from the picture (a simple right click and they’re gone). I removed my main characters’ names since I knew they were repeated a lot.

Check List

Words Commonly ConfusedA simple look up can correct mistakes.
Who vs that   Farther vs further   Bring vs take
Few vs less   Which vs that   In vs into
Only and just (are they modifying the right word)   On vs onto
Words to Avoid
These words can almost always cut without losing anything from the sentence. Often there’s another word that makes them redundant.
Then Decided Rather Down In order
Almost Planned Fairly Over Around
About Very Really Together Only
Begin Sat Somewhat Behind Just
Start Truly Up Out Even
Words to Rethink
These are words that often show up in told prose.
As Although Because Until
While Though When Later
Since Through Before After
Word That Often Spell Trouble
Words that keep readers out of the moment or aren’t as active as they could to be. (filtering and passive words)
Of Will be Saw Realized
Was, were (the was -ing forms) To be Smelled Decided
Have, had Able to Wondered Touched
Here Thought Watched Knew
There Felt Seemed/Seemed like Experienced
-ly Heard Sounded/Sounded like Noticed
Words That Often Indicate Weak Prose 
Some words read just fine, but with a little tweak, can strengthen a story and turn a lot of “good” sentences into great sentences.
Look Want There
Need Here  

The Hard Part
Go through each word and do a “find” and then look at the sentence. Then ask:

  • If I cut the word, does the sentence read better? ……..
  • If I reword the sentence to eliminate the word, does it read better?
  • Is there a stronger verb or noun I could use?
  • Can I rewrite the sentence in a more active fashion?
  • Can I be more descriptive or am I relying on boring words?
  • Can I rewrite it so it’s more in the voice of my character?

Online Resources:

Wordle: http://www.wordle.net

An all-in-one editing process: http://hollylisle.com/one-pass-manuscript-revision-from-first-draft-to-last-in-one-cycle

An excellent writing forum with a password protected critique area: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/index.php

A blog about writing that has great editing tips: http://blog.janicehardy.com/

A chart comparing active and passive voice in tenses: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/activepassive.html

A collection of mystery and thriller writers on writing: http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.ca

Need help finding the right word? Check out their various thesauri: http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.ca

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