Step 2: EDITING
Curious what mistakes you’re most likely to make in your writing journey?
Here are a few of the most common that plague writers of all levels.
Confusing there, they’re, and their
There = a place. I see you standing there.
They’re = they are. They’re really nice people.
Their = possession. That is their dog.
Confusing your and you’re
Your = possession. This is your dog.
You’re = you are. You’re really nice.
Confusing that and which
Generally, these words can be used interchangeably. However, you should place a comma before which and not before that when introducing a nonrestrictive phrase. (A nonrestrictive phrase is a phrase that can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence.)
The word that is often overused. Cut it from your writing anytime you can.
Overusing any word or phrase
Have a favorite word? You probably use it too often. Even if used just twice in 50 pages, a word like defenestration will distract readers and slow them down. That may not seem like a big deal, but a slowed reader is just one step from being a stopped reader.
So if you want to keep readers in the story, avoid using the same word over and over.
One word I have to hunt and replace in my writing is smile. My characters are constantly smiling and laughing and grunting and—well, you get the point. Thankfully, there are other ways to show this. It just takes some work.
If you need help discovering the words you use most often, a number of websites can help. Copy your text into the website, and the website shows the frequency of words and phrases in your writing. If interested, click here for a list of web-based programs that will do the job for you.
Similar sentence structure
There are three mistakes writers make regarding sentence structure.
1. Starting multiple sentences in a row with the same word. (I/He/She/It/The are common culprits.)
2. Ending multiple consecutive sentences with the same word or phrase.
3. Having all or most sentences the same length and structure. Variety—mixing short and long sentences—makes your writing flow well and is more natural to read.
When you write your first draft, you’re saying everything that comes to mind. That’s fine. But it’s too much for your reader. As you edit, one of your main goals is to cut out words and keep the story moving.
With that in mind, editing should help you remove the following:
- anything that doesn’t advance the story
- every phrase that can replaced with fewer words (example: is able to = can)
- telling instead of showing (This can be tricky to identify, but as you edit you’ll learn to recognize it. A good start: Don’t write that you saw or heard or believe something. Just write what you saw or heard or believe. If you write about a sight or sound or belief, it’s understood that you saw, heard, or believe it.)
Mismatched nouns and verbs
As you know, your verbs should always match your nouns. Using a singular noun? Use a singular verb. Plural noun? Plural verb. Thankfully, you can recognizes these problems with a careful reading. For instance, I bet you noticed something was wrong with that last sentence. The word recognizes should have been recognize.
Some disagree, but I say adverbs are the enemy. They slow your writing down and are typically overdone. (Yes, I used an adverb in the last sentence, but used in moderation, they’re fine.) Many adverbs can be identified by their ending letters: ly. Quietly, quickly, suddenly, and a million other -ly words are adverbs. Cut them out as often as you can.
If your story is in present tense, use present tense verbs. If it takes place in the past, write in the past tense. Jumping back and forth—unless you’re using flashbacks (which are difficult to use well)—will confuse your readers.
As with verb tense, you need a consistent point of view. No matter what point of view your story starts with, pick one and stick with it.
Your options are:
- First person: Main character is I/me.
- Second person: Rare in fiction, popular in nonfiction. Main character is you.
- Third person: Main character is he/she/they, and point of view can be limited (narrator knows the thoughts of just one character) or omniscient (narrator know all things about all characters—including their thoughts).
If your character thinks, do you put those thoughts in quotation marks or italics? If you quote the Bible or an ancient text created for your book, does the text go in quotation marks or italics? Pick a method and stick with it.
The same is true for a million other things, such as comma use. When dealing with a simple series, do you place a comma before the and? Do it every time—or don’t! Just be consistent with your style of choice.
Keeping a story together for thousands of words is no easy task. Let your story go, and your readers will be confused and frustrated.
Maybe you introduced a plot halfway through the book that isn’t resolved. Or perhaps a grocery store changes names three chapters after its introduction.
Look for these mistakes in your writing and clean them up before going to print. That way you won’t suffer the embarrassment of readers pointing it out for you on online reviews.
Unlike adverbs and misused words, info dumping can be difficult to diagnose. Not because it’s hard to spot, but because it contains vital information to your story. However, if your book has pages and pages of background information, that’s info dumping, and it kills your story’s flow.
How do you overcome info dumping?
Figure out what information is needed and incorporate small pieces of it throughout your story. Have characters speak quick bits of information or learn it from others speaking to them. This slow leak of information adds suspense and drama. It also keeps your readers reading.
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