Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 9.5

Part 1: Look it up!

Part 2:  Read it out loud.

Part 3:  Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.

Part 4:  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Part 5:  Dialogue tag...you're NOT it!

Part 6: Pick the right word to say what you mean.

Part 7: Adverbs--Kill it with fire!

Part 8: Editors Aren't Perfect

I had quite a few that I thought would be helpful, so here's the second half of Part 9: FSEs (Frequently Seen Errors)

Men who sound like women

As a woman who frequently writes male perspectives, it's a (fun) challenge to get in their heads and write from their point of view. But we've collectively read so many stories where the male characters are basically women with penises. So, if you're writing a man, try very hard to see things from their perspectives. How do they think? A man who is describing a woman's clothing would notice different things than a woman would--is the dress tight, pink, and short? He's not going to notice that it's peach, chiffon, or tea-length (unless the character is a fashion designer or something). When in doubt, ask a man--brother, father, son, husband, whoever--to describe something, or how they'd say something. It'll probably be short and sweet. There are lots of great posts out there on how to write men, so hit up Google.

Over-reactions as a major plot device

People--both real ones and the ones you've created in your manuscript--make mistakes and misinterpret things. We get that, we really do, and they're okay in small doses. It helps create some mild conflict so we get to see who the characters are. But using a huge misinterpretation or something similar leading to an overreaction as a plot device is getting stale. There are soooo many movies and books that do this that it's pretty played out.  You saw your man having coffee with a woman in a Starbucks you happened to walk by?  Yep, better freak out and overreact and assume he's cheating on you rather than: 1) going in and saying hello; 2) mentioning it to him later on when you're alone; or 3) anything else a real, sensible adult would do. Common plot twist discovered later: she's his sister/lesbian best friend/happily married boss, and that overreaction was all for naught. Huh. Who woulda thought?


Collectively, we agreed that we don't need to hear about everything the characters are doing. One of the freelance editors I was speaking with mentioned a page-long (several paragraphs in Word) meal scene she read where nothing major happened, certainly nothing necessary to the plot. But there were descriptions of what the characters were eating, how they were eating, everything. There was a whole play-by-play scene that did nothing that "X, Y, and Z had pizza for dinner before going out" couldn't have done. Again, we realize you're probably looking to pad the word count, but if you find a scene like this, cut it down. Description is often good and important, and it might take practice to find these stray scenes, but do your best.

Simple punctuation errors

Why would this drive an editor crazy? Because it's so easy to look up. It's almost cliche at this point, but there's a big difference between "Let's eat Grandpa!" and "Let's eat, Grandpa!"--mostly cannibalism.  Please, for the love of Jesus on a Velociraptor, if you want any editor or publisher worth their salt to take you seriously--or, if you're self-pubbing, for the readers to not tear you a new one in your Amazon reviews over your shitty grammar skills--look up how to properly punctuate--especially around dialogue. And please...apostrophes aren't necessary to make something plural. Really. Please stop abusing them. What have they ever done to you?

Excessive name or nickname use

Think about the last conversation you had with a person or even a group of people. Now think about how many times you actually said one of their names out loud, especially if it was just you and the other person. Maybe once? If it was a group, maybe a few times--if that--to specify who you were talking to? Keep this in mind when writing dialogue scenes, as this often gets out of hand. It's easy enough to tell who's talking if you use tags like "Brian said" or "Melanie asked". If there's a group, you can probably get away with using names more often, or to specify who is talking to whom, but keep it to a minimum. Your readers will thank you for it.

As for excessive nicknames, they can actually confuse the reader, especially if you have a large cast already. The readers will likely wonder, "Who is this?" and get frustrated. If you have a character named Katherine, it's logical that some people would call her Kate. But it's probably not necessary for her to also be called K-Dawg, Special K, and Katy-Kat by other characters.

I hope this little peek into frequently seen errors has helped you out!

What do you think?

xoxo Sarah

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 9

Part 1: Look it up!

Part 2:  Read it out loud.

Part 3:  Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.

Part 4:  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Part 5:  Dialogue tag...you're NOT it!

Part 6: Pick the right word to say what you mean.

Part 7: Adverbs--Kill it with fire!

Part 8: Editors Aren't Perfect

Here's Part 9: FSEs (Frequently Seen Errors)

I was chatting with some friends in the freelance editing world recently, and the subject of common mistakes we see over and over in our various projects came up. Basically, these were frequently seen errors (I'll call them FSEs because I like to throw an acronym in now and then) that we saw in manuscripts--grammar, spelling, punctuation, plot, pacing, phrasing, you name it. We've all been doing this a while, so we notice trends.

And I thought that since this is a series on how to self-edit, it could maybe do some good in helping folks see if they're doing any of these things that drive editors crazy.  Because a lot of what we freelancers do--besides the standard grammar/spelling/punctuation-nitpicking--involves the stuff that makes a story good.  And we all know that you guys want to write good stories (that have excellent grammar/spelling/punctuation too, of course)!

Just for a little background so you know we know what we're talking about, the lovely freelance editors I spoke with and I cumulatively have 10+ years editing (of all kinds, and all genres) experience between us.


This is one that came up a few times and I know I'm guilty of as a writer--when I write something, before it's edited, I generally have tons of information in clumps. I want the reader to know allthethingsimmediatelyOMG. I've shoveled it when I should have sprinkled it, and it doesn't do the story any good. Trust me. Spread it out--one of the things that keeps the readers reading is if they don't have all the information at once. Oddly, this usually happens with character back-story.


Characters making gestures is natural--they're "people", after all. But too many gestures, or too much physicality, can take the reader right out of the story. Are your characters constantly touching each other, or rolling their eyes, or any number of other physical things/gestures, especially if dialogue is interrupted to stick those gestures in there? Get another person to read it to make sure it's not too much, especially if it distracts from the story. Another big positive: If you limit writing gestures, then it will also make the ones you do include more powerful and meaningful.

Eye stuff

This deserved it's own category. There's often so much about characters LOOKING at each other. Gazing. Staring. What have you. Let the reader fill in the blanks to picture what's going on, and stop giving the reader the impression that the characters are trying to hypnotize each other. Eye-rolling, also. Limit this to, like, almost never. Trust us. If you need to show exasperation, there are much better ways to go about it. The Emotions Thesaurus is awesome for this.

Mouth stuff

At the risk of sounding dirty, mouth stuff is another thing we kept seeing. Mouths popping open in surprise. Mouths gaping. Jaws dropping. Again, how many times does this happen to real people, and, again, there are better ways of showing surprise.

Both writing that undermines the reader's intelligence AND writing that's pretentious

Both sides of the coin can be hard to deal with as both a reader and an editor, and a happy medium must be struck. If you dumb your writing down and spoon-feed the story to the reader, they're going to be insulted.  On the other hand, if you use words you'd see on the SAT and you're writing a cook book, again, probably time to reevaluate.  Take-home message: Readers are smart, and don't write for the lowest common denominator.

"...think to myself..."

We agreed that the only appropriate use of this would be if you're writing a story involving telepathic characters--in other words, when you might actually need to clarify who the character is thinking to. Otherwise, who the heck else would they be thinking to?  "I thought" is just fine.


Read this: Part 7: Adverbs--Kill it with fire!  Enough said. Yes, we get that adverbs help pad your word count. Still, don't do it.

Sex scenes

Why is this on here? Because you'd be surprised the number of scenes we've read that aren't quiiiite up to par. What do we mean? Sometimes you'll run across one with a position that's not physically possible (and not even in the realm of fantasy--like, the guy would have needed to sprout a third arm or something), or that uses the word "moist".

Need some help writing erotic or sexy scenes without fading to black, no matter how tame or kinky? There are tons of guides on Amazon, so check them out.

I'll be doing a post on this soon, probably after the new year, so keep an eye out for it.

This concludes the first half...I didn't want the post to get too long. The other half should be up soon!

Are these helpful? What do you think?

xoxo Sarah

Monday, December 15, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 8

Part 1: Look it up!

Part 2:  Read it out loud.

Part 3:  Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.

Part 4:  Consistency, consistency, consistency!

Part 5:  Dialogue tag...you're NOT it!

Part 6: Pick the right word to say what you mean.

Part 7: Adverbs--Kill it with fire!

Welcome to Part 8: Editors Aren't Perfect.

I'm often asked whether anything trips me up as an editor. And the answer is, unequivocally, YES. There are just some things that, even after repeated hammerings-in, just don't make it into my thick scull.

I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know everything related to writing, but that's why I own copies of several different editing and/or style guides.

But what stumps me? What's bookmarked and dog-eared in my editing reference books?

I'll tell you.

Keep in mind that these are just a few things, and, for the sake of brevity, I'm not going to go into detail on the correct meanings or usage of them--feel free to look those up, though I might stick a link or two in there if I feel like it.

Lie and Lay  

For the life of me, I can't keep this one straight, especially since the different tenses of the different words are often the same or cross-overs. This has to be one of the most-visited section of my editing guides, particularly because I have to look up the proper usage each time one of these (or a tense) is used.

Affect and Effect

Ugh. This one. Every time I use one in my own writing, even a freakin' Facebook post, I have to look it up. Drives me crazy that I can't keep this straight.

Time Format

Should it be AM/PM? a.m./p.m.? am/pm? Where does it go in relation to the actual numerals? This one is a frequently visited page when it comes up, which, thankfully, isn't often.

Colons and Semi-Colons

I've been told before that I sometimes misuse semi-colons, and I'd rather not use them at all than use them incorrectly. Colons are used so infrequently (unless it's with time) that when I see one used with a list or something else, it's an automatic look-up. Personally, I'm not a fan.

Em Dashes 

Usually these don't bother me and are more of a stylistic thing I rather like using in my own work, but they sometimes trip me up when wondering where to place them in dialogue that has been interrupted by something, typically a character's action.  Though, oddly enough, it makes a difference whether the dialogue stops completely for the action to take place, or whether the dialogue continues on, and the interruption is more of a note for the reader. Complicated? Not really. Hard to keep straight? Yep.

Example showing more of a "dialogue note" interruption, straight out of my CMoS 15 that I consult regularly: "Someday he's going to hit one of those long shots, and"--his voice turned huffy--"I won't be there to see it."  Blogger is weird and won't let me use a proper em dash, but the little hyphens there are the same thing.

This obviously isn't a comprehensive list, but there you have it!

What grammar/spelling/punctuation thing leaves you stumped every time?

xoxo Sarah