Editing Tips

6

Texas Tender Editing Tips

ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS
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.

grammar-policeECHO WORDS
2×2 – That’s my sign for ‘Two times Too’ close. Write on through to get your story on the paper, but when you go back to recheck or edit, watch for repeating words. 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.

FORMATTING
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 – 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 (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

PARAGRAPHS
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.

PET WORDS
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.)   

SENTENCE STRUCTURE
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’s very likely it will 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.  

VERBS
PASSIVE vs. ACTIVE – Don’t use too many passive, ‘to-be’ verbs (is, was, were, have, has, had, be, being, been, etc.) in your narrative. They’re okay (though not always the best) in dialogue because we do use them abundantly when we speak, but in your story, they are weak and passive. VERBS DRIVE YOUR STORY, not adjectives and adverbs!

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 are able to 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.

6 Comments
  1. Carla Rosselini says

    Thank you, Caryl,

    These are indeed very good tips.
    I particularly like your take on verbs, and how THEY drive your story, instead of adjectives and adverbs.

    I think it was Stephen King that said: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” or something similar.
    My best, Carla

    1. Caryl McAdoo says

      Thanks for your comment, Carla. In my humble beginnings writing creative fiction, I, like most newbies, thought it was all about adjectives and adverbs! I definitely made every possible mistake a writer can. I really love the challenge of choose great active verbs when telling my story now. Now that Stephen King, the man is a storyteller, isn’t he?! Blessings from Teas! Caryl

  2. Kristin Fouquet says

    Hi Caryl. Love the tip on reading aloud. I’ve realized how clumsy some sentences are when heard. I’m definitely guilty of using too many passive verbs. I do like to use them for describing inanimate objects, though. 😉

    Looking forward to the next installment. Thanks as always!

    1. Caryl McAdoo says

      I like to use a WAS for emphasis. He was the master. When you don’t have fifty more ‘was’s on a page, I find it can make using one pertinent 🙂 Blessings from Texas (must have hit my Texas’ ‘X’ too lightly in Carla’s response, then couldn’t get back in before clicking POST COMMENT. Type-o, an editor’s worst nighmare 🙂 tee hee hee

  3. Andy Bachman says

    Another great lesson.
    I never miss your articles, and I find that echoing words occur when you write fast and don’t check too often. So it’s probably a lazy writer’s mistake.

    I agree with Carla that the most important part is to concentrate on the verbs.

  4. Caryl McAdoo says

    Very true, Andy! And as I often find myself, writers who have too much on their plates might not be so lazy, as just in too big a hurry. That’s one reason I always say first things first, get it down. So many writers don’t get back for the rewrites – capital ‘S’ on rewriteS 🙂 one is never enough, don’t you agree? Thanks for your kind words of affirmation! Blessings from Texas! Y’all come back now, ya hear?

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