Friday, August 7, 2015

Quick & Dirty Edit Tips

A few weeks ago, I spent a long weekend as a faculty member at the Midwest Writer's Workshop. I got to wear both my author hat and my editor hat, which is always fun for me. I did a lot of different intensive sessions as well as manuscript/query critiques for several authors. The caliber of writing I saw was overall excellent, but it also made me think that not every writer has an opportunity to attend workshops such as this. 

So, this week, I thought I would give you the "cheat sheet" of Quick & Dirty Edit Tips that the Samhain Publishing editors compiled. This is by no means exhaustive, but it is very helpful when you get to the stage of revision where you're considering querying. Also, please remember that none of these are absolute. Everyone has their own style and rule breakers can be just as successful as rule followers. But if you’re going out for the first time, this might help:

Garbage words: go through and delete or revise
And then

Make them more descriptive or delete as many as you can. “That” can and should be replaced by "who" when it refers to a person/people.

Wandering Body Parts (also called autonomous body parts).

Eyes, hands and other body parts don't do things independently of the body they're in. Sometimes this can work and I don’t mind it because it gets us in deeper POV. But too many and it feels like we’re dealing with detached bodies.

“His eyes grazed my face.”
“His hands gripped my waist.”
“Her chin dropped.”
“His leg pressed against mine.”

Impossible sentence structure.

This especially happens with sentences starting with an -ing phrase. That phrase implies that all the other actions occur with it. It's an impossible sentence structure if you have the characters doing actions that cannot happen at the same time (like going down the stairs, leaving the club and traveling across town).
Make sure your subject/verbs agree. If you start a sentence with -ing, what's the subject? The subject is usually the first noun or pronoun directly after it. Can this noun or pronoun be the thing that performed the -ing action? If it's not, the sentence needs to be revised.

Watch for multiple “as” phrases, “ands”, “thens” and “whiles” in a sentence:
Cecilia threw back her hair as she laughed at Jack’s teasing, running her hand up and down his arm as he looked at her while his eyes sparkled.

A sentence like that has too many actions happening simultaneously; therefore, they lose impact on the reader.

Pronoun/Antecedent Issues: When you have two he's, two she's or any more than one of each in a scene, you need to make sure that each pronoun is attributed to the correct person. The last person mentioned is the one who gets the pronoun attributed to them. If you have several him's you might need to name names in sentences, so readers know who is doing what action.

Redundant actions:
her heart beat in her chest
nodded her head
shrugged her shoulders
sat down, stood up
thought to himself/herself

These are all givens. Where else would her heart beat? Nodding can only be done with the head. Unless they're sitting up in bed or something similar, they are sitting down. So: her heart beat, she nodded, shrugged, sat, stood and thought. It's all about making the sentence tighter and saying it in the most effective way--which is often using less words, not more.

Unnecessary directionals:
Watch for overuse of “up” “down” “out” and other words that imply direction but aren’t necessary.
She walked out onto the porch. Delete out, the sentence still says the same thing: She walked onto the porch.

“Don’t touch me,” she shouted out.
“Don’t touch me,” she shouted.

Unnecessary could:

She could hear—She heard...
He could feel—He felt...

At least half of the time could isn’t necessary. Delete those extra words for a tighter manuscript

Feeling, hearing, knowing and deep POV:

A lot of authors rely on using words like felt, heard, and know. While on occasion these can work, it does weaken writing. Read the following examples and you can see for yourself what creates the best imagery.

She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as he crossed the room toward her.
She felt her heart pound as he crossed the room toward her.
Her heart pounded as he crossed the room, devouring her with his heated gaze. (See? The sexy times are so much more intense in deep POVJ)

She could hear the sound of rain pattering on the roof, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.
She heard the rain pattering on the roof, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.
The rain pattered on the roof overhead, a relaxing chorus that lulled her to sleep.

Words to look for: thought, felt, wondered, decided, realized, figured, assumed, worked out, saw, heard, considered, remembered and knew.

That’s it for today! Thank you to my fellow editors for compiling this list. And thank you to all you writers who help me get better every day.**

**Please note that all gratuitous Lenny Kravitz images have been left out of this post, since Lenny Kravitz proved he was perfect this week and I'm pretty sure none of you need to see more of him at the moment. :)


  1. What an excellent list! Those filter words are especially important to edit out of writing (heard, felt, see, know, etc). We want senses in writing, but those senses should be shown, not told. These filter phrases can put readers at a distance. Even if they don't consciously know what's holding them apart from the story, if readers don't feel present in the story's action, or feel connected to the characters, these little filter words may be contributing to the problem.

    --Sam Taylor, AYAP Intern

  2. It's natural to use these words which makes it all the more difficult to NOT use them. But when I pay attention to the advice given above, I notice my writing gets better. In time, I hope it becomes second nature to make the adjustments without thinking about them.

    Halfway Author