Thursday, August 5, 2010

(Not So) Quick Editing Tips

Even when my book was getting rejected, I heard the same things over and over again.
"Because of the quality of your writing."
"It's good, but not right for me."
"This isn't right for me, but I would love to take a look at future works."

A rejection is still a rejection. It hurts, but these hurt a bit less because they all agreed that it was good. It certainly didn't start that way. My first draft was only slightly better than atrocious. A LOT of editing went into it, but these tips below were the first steps to making it good.

That and Just
I tend to use these words quite a bit, and find them in other unpublished works too. Most of the time, they are unnecessary, but we use them so frequently in conversation, they fall from our mouths into our WIP.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt that bunched up along her thigh.

Do we need it? No.

My eyes traveled up the white leg and the brown skirt bunched up along her thigh.

The sentence is more concise without it. You can do a simple word search and look for "that" and "just". Take them out and reread the sentence. If it still makes sense, leave it out.

On a side note: I do leave these words in dialogue pieces. Since we use them in speech, they add realism to the conversation.

Smirk, Laugh, Smile, Nod, etc.
Kate Schafer Testerman posted a blog entry with a note from an editor "...smirking is less common in the world than it appears to be from reading manuscripts." It is a common pitfall of newbie writers.

Search your manuscript for any of these meaningless actions. When you find one, delete it, or if you need to pause, try to replace it with something more original, like "He drummed his fingers on the table." To me, that provides a better picture of boredom than "He yawned."

Along this same vein are "shooting glances", which Mary of discussed recently as well.

A lot of writers, editors, agents say to get rid of these. For me, yes and no. Pick up HARRY POTTER or TWILIGHT and read one page. How many adverbs did you find? Now reread the page and pass over the sentences with adverbs. Did the scene change? Did you feeling you get from the scene change?

I think adverbs have their place, and they really need to be looked at on an individual basis. In our literary arsenal, the adverbs are the grenades. You can still use them, but sparingly, or you'll blow the whole thing up.

He said, She said
I am notorious for this. In my first draft ,every single piece of dialogue has a "he said" or "she said" after it. (I think this may be a surviving remnant from my Arizona Valley Girl days). If there are only two people in the room, you maybe only need it once or twice in the entire conversation. It will be up to your discretion, and your writing buddies will be a good resource. Remove as many as you think you can and ask your critique partners to make note of any conversations that were confusing.

Sentence Structure
"She walked..." "She drove..." "She went..." She. She. She. Identify the paragraphs with the same sentence beginnings and change them. This is honestly the best editing tip I can provide. Because when you start changing these sentences, you think. And when you think, you come up with something far better than before.

She walked to the store.

The cold wind cut through the seams of her jacket as she walked to the store.

Overused Words
In addition to "that" and "just", we all have our personal catch words. We know what they are, and maybe we tell ourselves we don't use them that much. But we do. Search for your words and count them. You might be surprised to find you used the same word over 300 times in your WIP. (or maybe you aren't).

Whatever your words are, change as many as you can. And again, this is a great exercise for adjusting sentence structure. If you can't find a suitable replacement, rework the sentence so the word isn't necessary.

Side note: If you use the thesaurus, be sure to select a word you know. I have a rule when I play Scrabble. If you make a word on the board, you better be able to use it in a sentence. The same goes for your manuscript. If you've never used the word in your life, don't start now.

Do you have any editing tips you follow? Please share them, and if you've already posted them on your blog, send me the link.


jjdebenedictis said...

Tip #1:
When you use the word "was", you're "telling" instead of "showing" (usually.)

"The sky was blue" is telling, but "The sky glowed blue" is closer to showing (i.e. the reader is more likely to imagine that image.)

Do a search for "was" in your manuscript, and consider rewriting sentences that feature it in order to make them more vivid and visceral.

Tip #2:
When you use adverbs and adjectives, check to see if you can't rewrite the sentence using stronger verbs and nouns instead.

Adverbs and adjectives tend to "tell" the reader what something looked like, while nouns and verbs tend to make them imagine it, i.e. they "show" the reader that scene.

Thus, "The lineup snaked around the building" is more likely to make the reader imagine something than the sentence "The long lineup reached around the building."

Rachel Menard said...

Tip #1 is excellent. I see a lot of "was" in early draft manuscripts (my own included).