Notes on Self-Editing – Part 2

Continuing on with the notes I took while reading Evan Marshall’s book, Novel Writing, and, as before, with my comments in bold italics.

Simplicity and Redundancy

– Delete redundancies.  While we’re going after redundancies, can “a point in time” be banned from the language until further notice?

– Often you can delete unnecessary possessives.

– Often you can delete thatHate ’em.  I read somewhere that “that” is the most overused unenecessary word in the English language.

– Clean out qualifiers like a bit, a little, fairly, highly, just, kind of, mostly, sort of.  They’re all weakeners and almost always unnecessary.

– For stronger impact, cut unnecessary articles (a/an, the).

– Delete and at the beginning of a sentence.

– Often you can cut of.

– Don’t use the fact that.

– Watch for circumlocution — saying things in an indirect or roundabout way. 

– Cut unnecessary words.  Not “The smile on his face, but “His smile.”

– Watch for autonomous body parts.  Never have body parts act on their own, except for the eyes.

– When describing the act of looking, use gaze rather than eyes to avoid hilarity.

– Cut began to or started to unless you are describing a character actually starting a task or activity.

– Don’t overuse then.  Remember: In fiction, everything is consecutive; readers expect one thing to follow another.

– Don’t tell readers something twice.

– Don’t tell readers more than they need to know.

– To avoid confusion, refer to each character the same way every time.

– Don’t overuse characters’ names.  Use the name, then switch to he or she.

 Clarity and Precision

– Seek and destroy clichés.  I always enjoy Michelle Kern’s clever and witty pieces in the National Examiner in which she battles clichés.  And while we’re at it, is there no “journalist” in the print or broadcast media who can’t come up with another way to say “rapidly rising” than the worn-out “skyrocketing?”

– To show habitual action, use past tense rather than would.  (“Each morning he walked,” rather than “Each morning he would walk.”)

– Watch it, which should replace the noun that immediately precedes it.

– Don’t use the weakeners appeared to or seemed to.

– Don’t tell readers what you’re showing them.

– Limit the use of there and there were.

Grammar, Usage, and Style

– Watch for and remove inadvertent rhyme.

– Don’t use the same “important” word twice on the same page.  On the other hand, don’t be afraid to repeat “unimportant” words.  An important word might also be simply an unusual or at least seldom used word.  You totally delete the impact of its specialness if you use it more than once.  The English language is too rich for you to have to do that.

– Watch for misplaced modifiers.

-Watch for introductory participles that don’t modify the subject of the sentence.

– Don’t use hopefully.

-Watch for “Morse code.”  Do you really need so many unfinished sentences trailing off in ellipses?

– Restrict your use of the intrusive exclamation point almost exclusively to dialogue and feelings/thoughts.  Otherwise, understatement is best.

– Avoid long, blocklike paragraphs.  Break them up whenever possible.  Yes, please!  Besides making the text easier to read, it adds white space to the page, making it more attractive.

– Don’t overload a sentence with too much information.  For example, don’t describe how something looks and what it does in the same sentence.

– Make sure pronouns agree with their antecedents.

Whether you are with a publishing house or are self-publishing, your work will be professionally edited.  (If you are a self-published author who omits using a professional editor, I think you should reconsider calling yourself an author.)  However, the more self-editing you do, the easier and better job the pro can do.  And don’t fool yourself, even the professionals make mistakes.  There must have been at least a dozen misspelled words or other errors in Vince Flynn’s (whom I like and respect) last novel, American Assassin.

After I was finished writing The Blizzard, probably another six months was spent on editing.  I’d bet I re-read it at least 12 times and each time I found a missed close quote, or added a comma, or found a better word or a tighter way to say something.  During the same period I had several other authors or avid readers with good English skills go over it.  Interestly, each would always find a typo or error that the others (and often, I) had missed.  After all that, a 13-year-old girl found a misspelled word in the first printing!

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