Since I'm in the process of doing a final edit and revision on my novel before I start the long journey towards publication, I thought I would write about some of the things I've had to learn about editing along the way.
First, there is the "Which" Hunt: cool phrase, right? Unfortunately, I can't take the credit for it, and don't remember who came up with it, but I heard it at a conference last year. The word "which" usually means "what one" or "which one," as in "Which movie shall we check out." But often we say 'which' when we actually mean "that," as in "The wolf that howled at the moon." Make sure that you've have used "which" properly, and not confused it with "that."
A phrase that I used a lot in my first few drafts, and really got both my critique group and my ICL instructor on my back for, was the phrase "Just then." First, "just" usually means "fair" or "according to the principles of justice." "Just then" almost always is used when you really can be much more descriptive by saying, "Abruptly," or "suddenly," or other adverbs that can attribute a more immediate action than "just then." If you are using the word "just" by itself, look over what you are saying, and see if you don't really mean "simply" or "merely" or...maybe you don't need a modifyer at all.
"A little." "Sort of." "Kind of." I've heard these phrases called "belittlers" because they don't tell the reader anything and belittle our work. How much is a little? How do you measure it? The same with "sort of" or "kind of." What do these phrases really mean? Be specific and don't 'belittle' your writing.
Watch out for caps and italics. You should stay away from capitalization of words, and only use italics when absolutely necessary. I think it's okay to use italics when a character is thinking or talking to herself, but use them carefully and sparingly. As an example, my MC has a "little voice" that talks to her ( no, she's not crazy !) and I use italics when the little voice is speaking. However, keep in mind that when you do use italics, the voice needs to be in the present tense.
I usually indicate my MC is talking to herself or thinking by using a descriptive sentence structure. Example: Okay, I thought as I slammed down the phone, they don't want me over there tonight. Fine, I don't care. If you use this structure, remember to start a new paragraph for the character's thought, and then another new one to indicate a continuance of the story/action.
If you use quotation marks for the thought, you need to make sure the character is actually talking to himself. "I'm not really afraid," AJ said to herself as she walked down the dark street. "I just don't like being on this street by myself at night." Also, remember that you should never say ...he thought to himself. After all, there isn't any other way to think!
When you start to edit, be sure to go through your work paragraph by paragraph and see how many of these extraneous words and phrases you can eliminate to tighten up your work.