Robert Smythe

Self-editing Tips - Issues to Look for

A few years ago, a friend and I attended a seminar given by John Lescroart, a bestselling writer of crime and legal fiction. John insists that writers should be wordcraft experts. He checks every sentence of his book.

Anyone who submits a manuscript to John for examination gets a series of letters in the margin to point out problems with the prose. Each letter stands for a specific problem. Here is his list of writing problems, with explanatory comments or examples.

John Lescroart's checklist for proper wordcraft.

​P       passive (such sentences often use was, were)

G       grammar, punctuation  (e.g. "Are you coming?" She asked.)

T       telling (exposition) (Such sentences often use was or were, or are explanations by the narrator.)

C       cliché

     wrong word  (e.g. there / their; assure / ensure; literally / figuratively)

R       redundancy. (e.g. the orphan had no father or mother. Another sentence may be redundant with earlier sentences, so could be struck entirely.)

U       unreferenced or improper antecedent (usually for it, which, who)

A       adverb or adjective unnecessary (e.g. "I wish you were dead," he said, meanly.)

E       echo (same non-trivial word or phrase used recently (i.e. in the same book))

      fake, negative description, saying what didn't happen instead of what did.

X       contradiction  (e.g. Choosing to remain silent, he told her he loved her. Most contradictions will span more than one sentence.)

NV    narrator voice   … should use proper English

?        huh? (Doesn't make sense.)

I        insults the reader (by telling obvious facts, unnecessary explanations; by explaining jokes, by using illogical plot or narrative devices. Example of the last: A character says to his friend, "As you know, Bob, black holes are formed when…" If Bob already knows, the speaker wouldn't have explained it. The author should find another way to tell the reader what the reader needs to know (only.)

In addition to problems with setting, plot, conflict, and characterization, these concepts are what I look for when I am editing a client's story. When you revise your draft, examine each sentence, checking it for the wordcraft problems that John Lescroart identifies.