Wednesday, August 31, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 26: The Micro Edit

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week twenty-six of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, where we are writing books together. I wrote the first draft of a book called THIRST and finished a few weeks ago. Click here to visit the chapter archives, if you want to read it.

Contest Announcement Coming Tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll be announcing the details for the opening of the #WeWriteBooks contest. We got a few weeks behind this summer, but we're all set to launch tomorrow. So, stay tuned for details!



Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's my premise:

A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Week three was Storyworld.
Week four: maps and floorplans.
Week five: protagonists and main characters.
Week six: side characters.
Week seven: prewriting.
Week eight: plot structures. 
Week nine: Theme.
Week ten: creating a plot outline or list of key scenes.
Week eleven: point of view.
Week twelve: narrative modes.

Week thirteen: how to write a scene.

Week fourteen: Where to start.

Week fifteen: Prologues.
Week sixteen: Dividing Your Book Into Chapters and Scenes 
Week seventeen: Write Fast and Free
Week eighteen: Dialogue and Thought
Week nineteen: Character and Author Voice
Week twenty: Action
Week twenty-one: Description
Week twenty-two: Exposition
Week twenty-three: Pacing
Week twenty-four: Beginnings and Endings of Scenes and Chapters
Week twenty-five: The Macro Edit

Today's Topic: The Micro Edit

Now that you have a consistent draft of your novel with all the pieces in place, it’s time to smooth it out and make every word count. You’ve written your first draft, then you fixed it to make the story say what you wanted to say, and now you’re going to say it well. That’s what a micro edit is all about, making your writing sing.

Stephanie wrote a great post on the micro edit. This stage takes as long as it takes--or sometimes as long as you have before the book is due. But this is where your editing skills shine, where you add the finishing touches on your masterpiece. It's a beautiful--and somewhat tedious--thing. Again, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, use the Go TeenWriters Self-Editing Checklist to help you take things step by step.

Here is how I tackle a micro edit:


I always have a timeline or calendar that chronicles the time that passes in my books. I try to maintain the calendar as I write the first draft, but it always gets messed up. This is one of the things I need to go through and check in my editing stage. I will read the story for the passage of time and make sure that everything lines up okay. This is especially important in books with more than one point of view character.


I will read the book with an eye tuned on all types of description: physical settings, people, creatures, objects, magic, etc. My goal is always to describe only what is necessary and delete the rest. I want to set the stage for each scene, but I don’t necessarily want to stop the story to do so. I’ll tweak static descriptions to make them active, which simply means I might describe a castle as my character moves through it rather than giving a paragraph of description as if my character stepped out of the story briefly to narrate that to me. I will shorten any descriptions that are too long and lengthen those that didn’t do their job well enough. I like to give the location and time of day at the start of each scene (in the first paragraph, if I can) and also state who is present and mention if there is an object that might come up later. This is to avoid having people or objects magically appear in the scene. I also make sure that any description is given in the voice of the point of view character. What would he notice? What words would he use?

In any description, I try to state where the character is in one simple and strong noun. Like: forest, bedroom, office, coast, classroom, sea. I pair the noun with descriptive verbs like: curved, stretched, crouched, stood, towered. And occasionally I add a visual adjective like: rocky, thick, bare, crowded, grassy, colossal, and specific colors. I avoid “ly” adverbs.

I also take time here to really look at my word choice. I want to choose specific nouns, verbs, and adjectives that set the proper mood for the scene. I want to make sure and incorporate the five senses here and there, as well.

Point of View

I read the book for point of view errors. This isn’t one of my major weaknesses, but I do sometimes slip into omniscient when my POV character somehow knows the emotion of another character in the scene. I try to fix all of that and show any emotions through actions, dialogue, and description. If point of view is a tough one for you, take extra care to watch for places where you drift from one head into another. Don’t tell the reader anything the character doesn’t know. Don’t jump into someone else’s thoughts. And if you must jump back and forth between points of view, stay in one person’s head at a time. It’s best two switch at scene or chapter breaks.

Telling vs. Showing

The difference between telling and showing looks like this. Imagine you are with friends out camping. You're sitting around the campfire and someone starts telling a story. "It was a dark night in the forest..." You listen, and you experience the story that way. That's telling.

Now imagine a movie or a stage play. Your watch characters act out a story for an audience. They're real, flesh and blood. You see their actions and expressions. You hear their voices. When an author puts words on a page in a way that readers can see this type of realistic detail in their minds, that's showing.

That's what you want. Stephanie wrote a fabulous post on this subject.

Telling Word List
I use the “search” function in Word to seek out telling words one at a time and rewrite those sentences.

The word “seemed” tends to enable a point of view character to interpret the minds of those around him. This is telling. Instead, I try and show other characters's emotions through their words and actions. Using the words “with a” is another type of telling. Ex: "He said with a smile." Instead, I would have the character smile, then speak.

Keep in mind, just because a word is on the list below doesn’t mean I can’t use it. It also doesn’t mean it’s for certain a telling word the way I've used it. In general, the following words facilitate telling, so I like to search for them, then consider the way I’ve used them in the sentence and if there might be a better way. I try to show action whenever I can rather than telling the facts. Showing gives me the opportunity to describe setting, characters, senses, and action. It helps me be specific. Every word matters. Choose wisely.

Here is my list: it, was, felt, saw, tasted, heard, smelled, sensed, gave, started to, began to, notice, found, with a, spotted, experienced, looked, feeling, felt, watched, wondered, spotted, listened, tried, seemed, thought.
Adverbs that end in “ly” tend to be overused and they are always telling. Every once in a while it’s okay to use one, but for the most part, cut them and use strong descriptive verbs to convey emotion instead. I might use one of these per novel.

Make Cliché Phrases Your Own
I try to avoid clichés in my writing. It can be hard to find them because some are so common I don’t even realize how cliché they are. But I do my best to keep an eye out for them as I rewrite. If I find one, I rewrite it to make it my own.
I watch for places where I explain something I've already revealed to my readers. This is often in another point of view, so it feels like that character needs to hear the story for himself. But he doesn't. So I just recap it and move on. For example, "He told Mike about what had happened with Susan and the dog."

Info Dumps
Information dumps are similar to over-explaining, but here I am simply dumping a load of facts into the story where they don't belong. I try to never do this and instead look for places to weave such facts into the action of the story.

Flashbacks and Backstory
If I've been building up to reveal that "major moment” that changed everything for my character, then I might use a single flashback or a section of backstory to finally reveal it. Any other flashbacks or bits of backstory I wouldn't likely deem unnecessary and would cut them. If I found some in my edits, I would see if I could find another way to work the information into the story.

Author Intrusion, Preaching a Message, or Forcing a Theme
Author intrusion is when I, the author, project myself, my views, my knowledge, or my opinions into my story. This is distracting to readers and interrupts the flow of the story. This often appears as a forced theme or preachy statement the author is forcing upon the reader, but it also can show up as having the wrong technology in a storyworld, real people like Einstein in a fantasy world, or misinformation when an author hasn’t done her research.

Also, just because we live in the 21st century doesn't mean that our characters should think like people today. If you're writing historical fiction or fantasy in an ancient world where there was slavery, chauvinism, different gender roles, or religious beliefs that are different that what you believe, stay true to your storyworld. Don’t force all your characters to be free thinkers who are ahead of their time. It’s bad writing to force modern-day beliefs into a story where they don’t fit. Fight the urge to force your story to be politically correct. The mark of a great writer is someone who can write any type of character honestly.

As to theme, I do try to foreshadow and plant my theme in this stage of edits. I just try to make sure that I'm being subtle and showing my theme rather than telling and forcing it.


I take extra time on dialogue when I can. I will go through the story for each of the main characters. Using the “search” function, I look for each use of their name so that I can study them closely. I’m looking for several things. I want each character in my story to come to life, and dialogue is one of the best ways to bring life to a character. I will study the dialogue for character voice, word choice, syntax, accent, slang, and trueness to that character. (Is this something he would actually say and do?) I will also study internal thoughts, action tags, and description tags to add in those details specific to each character and also to make sure that I haven’t overdone those details.

I also study the dialogue as a whole for rhythm and flow. I read it out loud to hear how it sounds. I want it to sound natural. If I’ve used too many said tags, I try to take some out or exchange them for action, thought, or description tags. I also look hard for generic action tags and try to rewrite these into something meaningful.

Tightening My Prose

I do as many read-throughs as I possibly can before it’s time to turn in the manuscript. The more the better. My goal is to tighten my prose and cut any and all clutter. 

First I go through and look for cliches that need to be tweaked for originality, for adverbs that can be cut (I do a search for "ly"), vague words (I search for: it, them, they, their...), then I'll search out all the words on my weasel word list.

Weasel Words
Weasel words are those pesky words that sneak into your sentences like “just” or “very.” I search my manuscript for these one at a time. Yes, it's very tedious, but it really makes a difference in my writing. You can tell when I've done it in a book and when I didn't have time. Click here to see a list of weasel words.

Cut Needless Words
I try to never use two words when I can use one. No need to say my character is a little tired. I would just say that she is tired. No need to tell my readers that she walked quickly when I can say she strode. Instead of writing that "the walls of the castle were stone" I can say "the castle's walls were stone." Cut. Trim. Tweak, tweak. Remember this magic formula: 1 + 1 = ½. That means, if I overuse descriptive words, I might make my story worse, rather than better. No need to say that Kate was tired and weary. She's weary. It's the stronger of the two words. Less is more. I pick a word and stick with it.

Vague vs. Specific
As I edit, I change any vague word I see. They weaken my writing. "She had pretty hair" doesn't do as much as "Her hair fell in black waves over her shoulders." The goal is to choose concrete words that offer a clear, intentional picture to the reader. Good writing is in the details.

Emotion Words
My author dream is that every word in my story would be chosen for a reason. That doesn't always happen because of deadlines, but it's a good practice. I also like to choose descriptive words that fit the overall emotion in a particular scene. These carefully chosen words will bolster the the emotion I'm looking to convey. 

Word Pictures
I use word pictures, metaphors, and similes whenever possible because they create instant mental images for the reader. A great simile or metaphor can really help a reader picture things, but those that are too creative can jerk the reader out of the story. I take care to use only the ones that work well. 

Quirks and Habits
Every author forms habits that can become monotonous to the reader. I tend to add way too many metaphors and similes. Another habit of mine is to use triplet sentences like: He walked down the hall, got a drink from the fountain, and went outside. Triplet sentences are something I have to watch for and tweak to create a better rhythm. And I also tend to start a lot of sentences with "and." *grin*

Passive vs. Active
I search my story for passive linking verbs and trade them in for active ones. Click here for a post on this topic.

Impossible Action, Action Out of Order, and Confusing or Bad Sentence Structures
Fiction should be shown in order: action, reaction. I search for the words that create continuing or simultaneous action like: as, when, while, after, and continued to. I always try to make sure those sentences are in a logical order—action, then reaction.

I check any sentences that begin with —ing words.These infinite verb phrases tend to create physical impossibilities. For example: Grabbing a textbook, he crammed it into his backpack, slammed his locker, and ran to class. 

Since he can’t physically grab a textbook, cram it into his backpack, slam the locker door, and run to class simultaneously, that sentence isn’t humanly possible and needs rewritten.

Paragraph and Sentence Structure, Pacing, and Flow
Today, most readers like lots of white space in their stories. That means shorter paragraphs and lots of dialogue. If you pick up a book and flip through it, notice the amount of text on each page compared to the amount of white space (where there’s no text). You want a good balance in your manuscript. We've talked about pacing before, so I watch for that as I edit. I continue to delete needless words, tighten sentences, survey the length of sentences, vary them, and break up really long paragraphs.

There's Still More?
There are so many more things I look for, but I'm writing a novel here in this blog post! Try not to get overwhelmed. As you perfect your writing craft, you won't make many of these mistakes anymore. All this will become second nature and your first drafts will be stronger, though they'll still need lots of attention. Until then, I highly recommend checking out the Go Teen Writers book where Stephanie and I go into depth teaching how to edit a novel. But here are a few more topics that you could Google if you'd like:

-Use progressive tense only when you actually mean to. Otherwise you can cut one word.
-Don't use double verbs unless they are factual and someone "started to do" something and did not finish. 
-Cut out all redundant phrases. "Her brain was pulsing in her head." Unless she might be an alien, the reader knows her brain is in her head, so you can just say: "Her brain was pulsing," even though that's a weird example...
-Don't repeat yourself. It's natural as we write to say the same thing a few different ways for effect, but when you go back in an edit, pick the strongest one and delete the others.
-Work hard on your beginnings and endings. Click here to learn more about that.
-Cut What's Boring. You might think, “Duh, Jill.” But you’d be surprised how much you can miss in your own manuscript. So keep an eye peeled for sentences or even paragraphs that really don’t matter, even if you like what you wrote. If the story is the same without it, it’s probably something that can be cut.

Read to Tweak

In my last pass through the manuscript, I read to tweak. I try to read the book out loud to someone. Reading aloud to an audience enables me to catch so much more than I would reading silently or even aloud to myself. There is no better method for me to catch things than doing this.

Comments and Placeholders

You'll need to run a search for any placeholders you may use. A placeholder is a word that some writers use as a flag to themselves to come back and fix something. Stephanie uses the word “GIRAFFE.” I don't use placeholders. I either highlight the text that needs more work or I’ll add a comment to remind myself what I need to come back and fix.

Ideally by this stage I should have fixed all these types of problems, so I would then run a search for them to make sure I didn't miss any.

Formatting, Punctuation, and Spell Check

Formatting your manuscript correctly is very important. Here is a quick list of things to do, and if you need more help, I also have a YouTube video on the subject that is quite thorough.

-Your title page should be single spaced. The rest of the manuscript should be double spaced.
-Use 12-point Times New Roman or Courier font. No exceptions. Don’t use a fancy font—it’ll mark you as an amateur.
-Each chapter should begin on a new page. Don’t hit “Enter, Enter, Enter” to get your cursor to a new page. You must insert a Page Break at the end of each chapter, then begin typing a new one on the next page.
-Start each chapter ¼ to ½ of the way down the page.
-Format all chapter headings the same. It doesn't matter if you write "Chapter One" or "1," as long as you're consistent.
-Use only one space after punctuation, not two.
-Use italics for inner thoughts and to stress a word. Don't go overboard.
-Avoid all fancy formatting, like drop cap letters to the start of each chapter, flowery scene breaks, or any other decorative graphics.
-Scene breaks should be marked with asterisks or a number sign. Again, you could use one asterisk *, five in a row ***** or three with tabs in between *      *      *. It doesn't matter as long as you are consistent throughout the manuscript. 

I always use the "search" function in Word to check all my chapter titles and asterisks to see that they're all formatted the same. I also search and replace two spaces for one until there are no more left.

Double Check
Double-check for correct punctuation, grammar, and common typos. Run a search for words you tend to misspell or create typos of like “chance” when I mean “change.” Also: its/it’s, know/now, loose/lose, past/passed, they’re/their/there, thing/think, and though/through/thought.


Proper punctuation is really important for writers. We must learn the rules if we are going to be professional authors. I highly recommend picking up a punctuation book for your own reference. The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference for the book publishing industry. Add a used copy to your wish list. It’s a great tool to have on your shelf. Here are a list of my Punctuation 101 blog posts. They are still relevant, so follow them!

Run Spell Check

Don't rely on Word's wavy red lines to catch all your misspellings. I ALWAYS run a spell check as the very last thing I do before turning in my manuscript. And even then I sometimes manage to miss things.

More posts to help you:

Help for Editing Secondary Characters:
Secondary Characters

Macro edit links I missed last week:
Time for the Forest

Assignment time

Just like last week, I know some of you aren't ready for this stage of edits, but if you're planning to enter the contest (details coming tomorrow!) then you'll need to at least start editing your first chapter. What are some things listed above that you know you need to work on? Share in the comments.


  1. I bookmarked this page as soon as I finished reading it. This is a great list to check through. I'm currently focusing on more of a macro edit at the moment, which unfortunately includes a load of re-writing and fixing clumsy sections of the plot. As for the micro edit, I know I write lots of information dumps, usually at the start of chapters so I definitely need to weave that into other parts of the story. Thanks for the tips! :)

    1. Good to know where your habits are. I'm glad this will help when you reach that stage. And congrats on reaching this stage, Charlotte! Macro edits can be a lot of work, but isn't it exciting when you start fixing things and can see how much stronger your book is? I always get a little giddy about it, when it's working, anyway...

  2. Hello!
    Do you have to finish your book before you enter the contest?

    1. Nope! There will be more details tomorrow, but for the contest you will just be entering your first chapter and a short synopsis.

  3. Poor Jill, your hands must be aching after this long, long post! *But* this was exetremely helpful! As Charlotte said, I will be bookmarking!

    1. Yes, that was a really long post! I'm so glad it's helpful, though. :-)

  4. Concerning the contest ... If you haven't finished your book what should you put for word count?

    1. You can only enter 3,000 words of your story, so you won't need to give us a total word count.

  5. Another great post, micro-editing can be pretty tricky. This entire post series has been quite inspiring. Can't wait for the contest!