Sunday, 4 March 2012

Tip of the week: editing, do it yourself

Time for another Tip of the week and today, I want to hand out a few tips on self-editing, on the how to tighten your writing and find overused phrases, as well as editing for logic.
Every writer has them, those tendencies to overuse a particular phrase; and every writer will put some small inconsistencies they will only catch with a bit of distance or when a reader points them out.
As an editor it's my job to point out those issues mentioned below. They are small things making a big difference if tackled.

Overused phrasing: 
It's one of the most difficult tasks to avoid repetition. I recently was more than annoyed with a book that contained so many latches I was dizzy. The challenge is trying to find other ways of describing the action.
He grabbed, he held on to her, closed his fingers around her wrist/arm, reached for her wrist, she tried to shake him off, but he wouldn't let go, etc.
I am guilty of overusing grins in No Wings Attached. After a friend told me about it, I cut them down severely.
A useful tool to find out if you're overusing a word/phrase is to search for it with the Find & Replace tool in Word. You'd be surprised what you'll find.

Logic & tightening:
What I see a lot in beginners' writing is the following:
Walking into the kitchen, she opened a fridge. She took out the milk and poured it into her coffee. Taking a sip, she mumbled, 'I simple can't believe that.'
Not only is it really annoying to read, it's also impossible, unless the kitchen is a fridge or so tiny that she could do both at the same time. Neither is talking that complete sentence while taking a sip. She can either talk or take a sip, or take a sip, then talk.
One of the most hilarious examples was: Running down the stairs she pulled on her jeans. 
Seriously? I'd like to see that stunt.
Check your manuscript for those often rather funny sentences.

The next example is perfectly fine:
Cleaning the kitchen, she listened to the radio. 

A few years ago, I read something like this:
It was completely dark, the backyard only lit by a dim light.
Then it wasn't completely dark, because it would mean no light at all. The first part isn't necessary to describe the scene. The backyard was only lit by a dim light.

Another example on tightening:
'As if that is necessary,' she grumbled. She wasn't in a good mood.
The second part becomes redundant as she's grumbling, so it's clear to the reader she's not chirpy.

I'm currently reading a book where I witnessed some action that'll be repeated later. A person dies, an investigation takes place, they search the house, interview the people who live in the house, etc.
Later on, I'm being retold through a dialogue the MC has with another character. Totally unnecessary. I was there, I saw the investigation, I heard them being interviewed, hell, I even witnessed the person die.
A simple: He filled her in, he told her what has happened, he described the event to her, etc. would be enough.
Okay, hope that'll give you some food for thoughts.
As usual, if you have anything else to add, feel free to comment; I'm sure others will be grateful.


  1. Yes, but we can do something about it. :-)

    Now I'll have to have a word with you about that missing comma, Jack...