Quick Editorial Tips III

Photo by Angie Ledbetter

“Was” and “Were”

Y’all have heard about passive voice, but you are still using it. Stop that horse and dismount!

Here is one simple problem I see, over and over –

“Kathryn and Angie were eating gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

Try instead, “Kathryn and Angie ate gumbo in Baton Rouge.”

“Tracy was standing next to her horse.”

Photo courtesy Tracy Hinkel

Try instead, “Tracy stood next to her horse.”

“The writers were attacking the editor.”

Try instead, “The writers attacked the editor.”

Seemed, appeared (also show, don’t tell)

Tonia Marie seemed nervous. Blah. Shawn appeared bored. Blech.

Don’t use seemed or appeared or any similar wishy-washy words. Don’t tell us a character “seemed upset,” or “appeared bored” – show us how she is upset or how she is bored.

Show us the beads of sweat on her brow, her chewing on her bottom lip, her clenching fists.

Show us her slouchy posture in the chair, her wandering or rolling eyes, her picking at her nails.

Boring dialog vs. character-driven dialog

I recently edited J. J. Brown’s American Dream. All of J.J.’s characters have a personality that translated into the dialog.

One of J.J.’s characters is a Frenchman, and his English dialog has a French flair. He would often say, “Oui?” or “Yes?” or “No?” at the end of his bits of dialog.

Do you work on giving each character a distinctive voice?

A character clears his throat before speaking

A character has a Southern accent or a Jersey accent

A character uses a lot of similes or clichés

A character uses no contractions

A character quotes the Bible

Number of words in a sentence

All your sentences have the same number of words. There is no variety in your novel’s sentence structure. I am getting bored by your mundane sentence structure. I beg you to give me some sentence variety.

All the sentences in the above paragraph have the same number of words. Boring, right? Though it is never exactly like this in the projects I edit and proofread, some sentence structure is hauntingly similar.

Giddy up! Some sentences go directly to the barn door. Other sentences take a wandering path around the side of the barn, meander behind the barn, and come out at the corral.

Photo by Jink Willis

See also Quick Editorial Tips I and Quick Editorial Tips II.

Photos courtesy of Angie Ledbetter, Tracy Hinkel, and Jink Willis.

Karen and son Kenton

Karen S. Elliott was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day. Their favorite expression was, “Look it up!” Karen is an editor and proofreader, blogger, and writer. Her short stories have been featured in The Rose & Thorn Journal, Every Child is Entitled to Innocence anthology, Valley Living Magazine, BewilderingStories.com, and WritingRaw.com.

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23 Comments

Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Quick Editing Tips

23 responses to “Quick Editorial Tips III

  1. Ah wonderful!! Another set of excellent tips to bookmark….love it! Thank you once again, oh wise one 🙂

  2. Well, dang – wish I were eating gumbo with Angie 😀 haw! 😀

    Always great tips here — even when they are ones I understand and know, it reminds me to go check my WIP to make sure I’m not forgetting sumpin’!

  3. LOL. Me too, Kat.

    You have a way of slicing through the blah-blah-blah and explaining editorial tips in such a good (and memorable) way, Karen. Kudos for more great reminders.

  4. karenselliott

    Thanks all! It is so nice to be “bookmarked.” Writing these tips reminds me as well. I still find some simple boo-boos in my stories. About the blah, blah, blah – I read five or six paragraphs of intro on a blog, and I think, “Get to the point!” So I like to just cut to the good stuff.

  5. Thanks for all these reminders. I use this site: http://www.aztekera.com/tools/tobeverbs sometimes to analyze the “to be” words. It helps me cut them out.

  6. Great post, Karen. Thank you!

  7. Thanks Karen for the tips. Although its something quite obvious it’s nice to hear it again from someone else.

  8. Bookmarked! Great tips for when I am entrenched in the story disregarding all the rules! Thanks!

    • karenselliott

      I think you should disregard the rules when writing. While editing is when all the crap must go! Thanks for your comment, Butterfly.

  9. Clever and useful post, Karen. Another winner. Bookmarking, oh wise Word Shark and wearer-of-socks. Thanks for being you. 🙂

  10. Great advice karen. I will keep this one for future reference as I know I am guilty from time to time. Thanks for the comment on my blog, which I responded to, but for some reason I lost your comment. WordPress was acting a bit strange this morning. I mean, WordPress acted a bit strange!

  11. Excellent tidbits, Karen. I have been guilty of these ugly boo boos, and aspire never to be guilty again. (Or at the very least, not quite so guilty!)

  12. karenselliott

    I know at times, we all make these simple mistakes. I write poorly when I am “in the zone.” Editing is a good time to attack the problems. If we know about them, then we can correct them. Never hurts to be reminded.

    Thanks for all the kind an wonderful comments, friends!

  13. LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! You have just been nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award!
    Check out my post “One Lovely Blog Award” for details on what to do next.
    Congratulations!!!
    http://iamlauramercurio.com/2012/09/04/one-lovely-blog-award-my-thanks-and-the-nominees/

    • karenselliott

      Thank you so much, Laura!

      • I critiqued one manuscript that had likable characters, an interesting premise, and lots of action. And yet the pacing felt slow and off. I finally realized that all paragraphs were 4 to 5 lines long and most sentences were 10 to 20 words. Variety is the spice of writing!

  14. A well timed kick in the pants reminder! Thanks!
    🙂

  15. karenselliott

    Chris – Also the spice of action/intense scenes. Action scenes should have shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs, more white space on the page, yes? These things make the reader move down the page more quickly and makes it feel intense and quick.

  16. Thanks for the tips Karen. You helped me with many items like these in your edits of the book. Each time I read your blog I notice a yet new wrinkle I have to iron out.

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