Important Editing Tips
Be careful not to overload your story. Make certain every adjective and adverb – especially those pesky ‘ly’ adverbs – is used sparingly, and don’t bog your action down. Remember, ACTIVE VERBS drive your story, not the descriptive adjectives and adverbs, although those do help paint pictures and are great tools. Just don’t overload; practice moderation. Think salt, a little on a bland dish enhances, too much, and you ruin the dish.
2×2 – That’s my sign for ‘Two times Too’ close. Write on through to get your story on the paper, but watch for repeating words when you go back to recheck or edit. Don’t use ‘little’ 4 x 2 (‘Four times Too’ close) in one paragraph. Try out ‘small,’ ‘diminutive,’ ‘teeny,’ ‘minuscule,’ ‘ant size,’ etc. If you run out of imagination, use your thesaurus.
Tip: to hear echo words that you might not catch otherwise is to read your work aloud. You’ll be amazed at how much that helps.
First and foremost, ALWAYS check—if you know whom you’re submitting your work to—for that person’s preferences. Always! You can usually find their ‘Submission Guidelines’ online. But industry standards are – the 12-point true font (Times New Roman or Courier), double-spaced, one-inch margins, and tabbed paragraphs – not separated by a blank line, which is used as a page break.
- HEADER – Title / Author Last Name on left / page # top right
- FIRST PAGE – top left, single-spaced (the only place for single, not doubled) include: Author Name / 2nd line, street address / 3rd line city, state, zip code / 4th line phone number / 5th line email address / 6th line website if any / 7th line genre /8th line word count
I know there will be those who disagree, but one of our favorite mentors told Ron and me that readers don’t like dark pages, long paragraphs with few breaks. He suggested that we shoot for a four-line paragraph. Some will be two, others six. Look back at these tips I’m writing, and you’ll see I practice what I preach. Mix it up, long ones, short ones. Variety makes your writing interesting.
Know what yours are and guard against them. Just and little are two of mine. Go ahead and write like you talk–then rewrite. Remember, only God writes in stone; the rest of us rewrite. (I know I repeat that almost every Texas Tender, but in my humble opinion, it bears repeating! Too many folks are way too proud of their work and think it doesn’t need editing.)
Mix it up! In first grade, we wrote simple sentences. He coughed. And by senior English, compound sentences were easy, and complex diagramming put all predicates, conjunctions, prepositional phrases, and modifiers in their place! A prepositional phrase is a good way to start a sentence here and there, at the end, A-Okay, but not every sentence one after the next with the same structure no matter how good any of them is.
Editing a page, before you go to the next, check the word starting every paragraph. It will likely be a proper name, a he, or a she—that or dialogue. If you find this is true, it needs to be addressed. Flip sentences or add a prepositional phrase, not every time. Mix it up
Besides reading only for content when rewriting, be aware of how the sentences are put together. Long ones, short ones. Being able to put four-line (approximately forty words) sentences together does not show how intelligent you are. It just makes for hard reading for your customers. Who likes to have to go back and reread a sentence three times to try and get what the author meant to say?
Of course, as always, I’m talking creative fiction. Such practices are more accepted in literary fiction, though I stand by readers don’t like having to go back.
PASSIVE vs. ACTIVE
Go through and count your ‘was’s and your ‘had’s. See how many you can delete and replace with a more active verb. Often you can delete a ‘was’ by simply rearranging your sentence. Other times, you may need to be a little more creative, use a few more words, but keep in mind always – active is better than passive, even if it takes extra words.
WAS + …ING
Check for instances wherever a ‘was’ is followed by an ‘ing’ verb (example: was singing / change to sang; was plowing/plowed; was parting/parted). Yes, there are times you NEED the present, past, or future progressive tenses, but delete the to-be verb – usually ‘was’ – and replace the ‘ing’ on your active verb with an ‘ed’ for simple past tense and see if it doesn’t sound better and plenty active. If it works, you’ve deleted a passive to-be verb AND an ‘ing’! Good job!
What are your habitual words? Have you been ‘was’ing‘ your stories to death?
Next Texas Tender, watch for Story Composition and more editing and writing tips.