Tips from the Editing Desk #1

I’ve been editing a lot of manuscripts lately. Some have been assigned by World Castle Publishing, and others I do for friends. After doing this, I understand why I’ve gotten so many rejections. There are some things you can do that will just get on an editor’s nerves. While it is your editor’s job to fix all the little problems in your manuscript, there are some simple things you can do to make it easier for them. I’ve compiled a list of the most common problems I’ve seen.

Dialogue

  • Wrong:  “Don’t do that.” She said.
  • Wrong: She said “don’t do that.”
  • Right: “Don’t do that,” she said.
  • Right: She said, “Don’t do that.”
  • Remember, place a comma between the end of your sentence and the quotation marks, unless you’re using a ‘beat’. (where an action identifies who is speaking)
  • Like this: “Don’t do that.” She slammed her hand down on the table.
  • Or: She slammed her hand down on the table. “Don’t do that!”

Contractions:

If your story takes place in modern times, contractions are crucial to making your dialect sound authentic. How many times have you heard some say “I would not do that” unless they were putting emphasis on ‘not’? “I wouldn’t do that” sounds more time-appropriate.

Other words you should always contract:

  • Should have—should’ve
  • Would have—would’ve
  • Have not—haven’t
  • Could not—couldn’t
  • Will not—won’t

Note: Don’t avoid contractions for the sake of word count. Your editor will see right through that.

Word repetition:

This is my biggest pet-peeves. There are tons, tons, tons of words in the English language. With that much variety, there’s no need to repeat the same word on one page. There are certain exceptions to this rule of course, like character’s names, or in some cases, ‘she’ or ‘he’. But verbs, adjectives and adverbs shouldn’t be repeated. I’ve pasted a segment from one of the first drafts of my first manuscript. Let’s take a look at how many rules I broke (ironic, since this story is called Breaking All the RulesJ)

Shane Rivers sat behind the counter of the gas station, his feet kicked up on the counter, idly flipping through a magazine.  It was late at night, and the store was getting ready to close.  Chad was in the back, stocking shelves.”You could get off your lazy ass and help me, you know?” Chad called from the back.

“Can’t.” Shane said, flipping a page.  “Might get a customer.”

The bell above the door to the gas station rang.  “Sorry, we’re clo-” Shane began as he sat up and plopped his feet down, but the word caught in his throat, the remainder of it coming out in a harsh rasp as his eyes began to dance over the body of the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen…the girl he never thought he’d see again.

His magazine plopped to the counter as he gawked at her. It was hard for him to conceive which part of her he liked the best as he watched her ruby-red hair wave around face, creating a beautiful contrast to her ivory skin as she stepped into the store.  As the door swung shut, the wind from outside touched her hair just slightly, making it caress her lips in a way that made Shane tremble.  Her eyes blazed emerald green and pierced right through his soul.

Wow. So, you see? It’s easy to repeat words without even realizing it. And, I’ve been through this story 1,000 times and I’ve just now caught a missed word. Did you spot it?

To fix:

Shane Rivers sat behind the counter of the gas station, his feet kicked shoes propped up on the counter tabletop, idly flipping through a magazine.  It was late at night, and the store was getting ready to close. 

Chad was in the back,  stocking shelves.“You could get off your lazy ass and help me, you know?” Chad was in called from the back, where he was stocking shelves. Chad called from the back.

“Can’t.,” Shane said, flipping turning a page.  “Might get a customer.”

The bell above the door to the gas station rang.  “Sorry, we’re clo-” Shane began as he sat up and plopped his feet down, but the word caught in his throat, the remainder of it coming out in a harsh rasp as his eyes gaze began to danced over the body of the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen…the girl one he never thought he’d see again.

His magazine plopped to the counter  slipped from his grasp as he gawked at her. It was hard for him to conceive which part of her he liked the best as he watched her ruby-red hair tresses wave around her face, creating a beautiful contrast to her ivory skin as she stepped inside. As the door swung shut, tThe wind from outside touched her hair just slightly, making it caress her lips in a way that made Shane tremble.  Her eyes blazed emerald green and pierced right through his soul.   

I’m not happy about the use of ‘tabletop’ but you get the idea. Word repetition is tricky, so it’s not something you should worry about during the first draft. When you go back in with your editing glasses, just highlight the repeated words like I did and then interchange or delete or reword.

Sat There:

I see this one in almost every single manuscript. “I sat there, gaping in shock.” “I stood there, smiling.”

I used to do this all of the time, until I let an English teacher critique one of my stories. She wrote out in the margin “Where?” So, every time I catch myself doing that, I just ask myself that question and “I sat there, gaping in shock” automatically becomes “I sat in the chair, gaping in shock.” or even “I gaped in shock.”

 

Got:

I cringe when I see this word. Just say it aloud for a second—it sounds ridiculous. This may be a personal thing that doesn’t bother others, but there’s always something else that can be substituted.

“I got up” becomes “I stood up.”

“We got candles from the store” becomes “We bought candles from the store”

“He got angry” becomes “He grew angry”

Writing Books

Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus

 

My Books

From the Damage: Opposites Attract coauthored with Genna Denton

Soul of the Sea by Jasmine Denton

 

Have you picked up any tricks of the trade, or do you have any writing books to share? What most common mistakes do you find in your manuscripts?

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