Sunday, March 21, 2010

5 Common Editing Mistakes

  1. Wordiness. Jack and Jill went up the hill, not Jack and Jill went up the side of the hill. It’s a half-cup, not, it’s half of a cup. Formality of speech/dialogue. Avoid stilted phrases. Can you act your dialogue? Have someone else speak it, or record it and play it back. Avoid being reflexive. Galahad had the strength of ten because his heart was pure, not Galahad had the strength of ten men, but that was because he had a pure heart. Make it flow from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph
  2. Use Active Verbs. Avoid Had/Have, Would/Should. We had gone through tough times should be We went through tough times. Or, We had survived the Depression, so this would be easy should be We survived the Depression; this was easy. Passive phrases often replace emotions. She would have stayed up all night tells us nothing of its importance. It leaves it to the reader to empathize. She wanted to stay up all night. Or needed. Or was driven. Go through your story and circle active verbs, then underline the passive. Which do you use more? Can you change your passive verbs? Should Jack and Jill went up the hill be Jack and Jill sped up the hill?
  3. Seemed. The sky seemed a brilliant blue. He seemed to limp. Be assertive/definite/paint a picture for your reader. The sky was a brilliant blue. He limped. Only OK in first-person narrative, but even then be careful. There are substitutions. He seemed pensive could be I knew him well enough to know his pensive look. Replace every seem, seems, or seemed and see how it looks.
  4. Repetitiveness. Same words and concepts get used over and over. Find synonyms, respect your reader. If something is extremely important, devote more time to it when it is introduced and then refer to it. Or, if it gains importance, build upon it every it's mentioned. Find and important word and count how many times you use it in a story, chapter, page. Don't use a thesaurus unless it's absolutely necessary. Too often it will sound like you're using a thesaurus.
  5. Logical inconsistencies. He fell out of the tree, which broke his arm. We know what you mean--the fall broke his arm, but it could just as easily mean that the tree broke his arm. He broke his arm when he fell out of the tree.

Don’t be afraid to cut anything. Don’t be afraid to move anything. I have cut some of my favorite lines out work because they didn't fit. Sometimes they get moved, occasionally they pop up in other work. Think, I’m a writer, I can come up with other good lines.

Find sentences and words that leap out at you, that strike you as particularly good. Find your favorite word or phrase. Why does it work for you? Should you do more of that? Can you do more of that?

Good luck with those second drafts!

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