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.
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.
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.
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?