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Self-editing checklist

Self-editing checklist Self-editing checklist

☑️ Beginnings and ends of chapters

Review your chapter openings and endings to ensure that you’re not always starting and ending chapters in the same way. Especially watch out for characters waking up or going to sleep as chapter beginnings/endings.

☑️ Consistency

Consistency is especially important when working on a platform like Wattpad, where you’re publishing your story chapter by chapter. Make sure you can keep track of all the details you’ve already published so that you avoid contradictions. Check details within each scene: think about times of day and weather; think about where characters are standing, etc.

☑️ Descriptive language

Often writers fall into the trap of overusing adjectives and adverbs. Make sure that you’re not relying on adjectives and adverbs to get your tone or meaning across. When you’re writing descriptive passages, think not just about the scene you’re describing, but also the emotional tone and mood you want to convey. 

☑️ Describing emotions (show, don’t tell!)

Look through your prose for anywhere where you’ve told the reader how a character feels and see if you can show how they feel instead. Rather than describing a character as frightened, for example, tell us about what that looks like—are they shaking, cowering, tightly gripping someone’s hand? 

☑️ Dialogue

Try reading your dialogue out loud to yourself to make sure it sounds natural and matches your character's voice. Typically dialogue uses a lot of verb contractions (They are becomes they’re; cannot becomes can’t, etc.) If it sounds awkward when read aloud, it’s time to go in and refine until it sounds smooth and natural.

☑️ Dialogue tags

Dialogue tags are only necessary when it’s unclear who is speaking. Go through your prose and see where you can cut any unnecessary tags. Said should always be your default: it is essentially invisible to the average English-language reader and repeated use is not a problem. Avoid using more complex words unless they are truly necessary.  Always include a comma before addressing someone (especially in dialogue, i.e., “Hello, Nicola”), as well as before closing quotation marks (unless it ends in a ? or a ! or is not followed by a dialogue tag). Dialogue tags begin with a lowercase letter (unless it's someone's name), even if the sentence in quotes ends with a ? or ! (i.e., "The house is on fire!" she shouted.)

☑️ Epithets, pronouns, and names

An epithet is a descriptive term for a character that relies on an adjective to distinguish that character (think the blonde, the tall man, etc.) These can be used for side characters who aren’t important to the scene; they should never be used for your main characters. Check that the character names aren’t similar enough to be confusing, or that they don’t all start with the same letter.

☑️ Filtering

Scan your work for filter words, like “saw,” “perceived,” “heard,” “felt,” and “noticed,” Filtering can be a useful tool when the character’s perception is inaccurate or in question, but outside of those instances, filter words can add bulk to your prose and it is best to remove them.

☑️ Foreshadowing

Is there a big twist or reveal coming up in your story? If so, make sure that you drop enough hints that it feels like a natural part of the story (but not so many that the reader is unsurprised).

☑️ Pacing

Look for the Storycoaster! Does the action build up to peaks and plunge into valleys, or is it a flat level of action throughout? How have things changed over the course of the scene? If everything is the same at the end as it was at the beginning, the scene might need some reworking to be more dynamic. 

☑️ Passive voice

Scan for passive voice and replace it with active voice wherever possible.

☑️ POV

This is especially important if you’re writing from multiple points of view. Ensure that you’re consistent with POV and that the narrative voice is consistent with the character.

☑️ Readability

Review the key language principles outlined in this article—simple sentences and short paragraphs are key to holding and keeping your reader’s attention.

☑️ Redundancies

Remove filler words and redundant pairs (ie. two words that have essentially the same meaning—eg. difficult dilemma, suddenly exploded, etc) and make your writing as concise as possible. 

☑️ Repetition

Check that you haven’t repeated the same information multiple times. Sometimes we do this without realizing it, especially in early drafts. Say it once, clearly, and trust that the reader will understand.

☑️ Repeating specific words

We all have words and phrases we rely on while drafting. These are often character actions or responses, but not always. Some common ones are nodding, shrugging, raising an eyebrow, etc. Look for the moments where you rely on the same words or phrases, and try to get a bit more specific.

☑️ Sentence length/structure

Your sentences should be varied in length and structure to add some rhythm to your prose. Scan for any run-on sentences and see where you can break them up. If you’re unsure about a paragraph, try reading it aloud and pay attention to the cadence and rhythm.

☑️ Spellcheck

It sounds obvious, but double-check your spelling and try to catch any typos or errors before you post

☑️ Tenses

Review your verbs to ensure that you’ve been consistent with tenses throughout. 

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