Editors are Angels Part 2

Editors are Angels Part 2

Well, here is the wonderful TWRP Editor Nan Swanson to the rescue. I found this incredibly helpful. If only I had this when I first started writing I would be well on my way to making life easier for everyone.


To revise from blatant “new author” labelling and/or to cut word count:

Things to look for:     

1. The word “that” – Delete it completely if the sentence says the same thing without it! It wastes wordage and slows down readers’ momentum in following the plot as fast as they can.

2. The word “was” – Again, waste of word count. Very often, “who was” and “that was” can simply be deleted and the sentence still says everything necessary.

3. Along with 2,look for ”There was…” and “It was…” These are wasteful also, and “tell” the reader about something rather than showing the reader the picture you want to give. For instance:

   ”It was raining.” Duh. What a blah picture comes to mind. Instead, write, “Rain dripped from the eaves and washed the pansy faces in the flower boxes,” or “Slashing rain scrubbed the windows…” Hmm. I seem to have cleaning on my mind! 

    “There were three men at the table.” Why not: “Three men sat at the table.” Or be more explicit: “The three elderly men at the rickety table guffawed when the waitress tripped over the cat.”

4. Small prepositional phrases at the ends of sentences, such as “for him” or “at her.” These are often expendable, unnecessary.

5. ”Dead” words such as “walked” or “rode” or “set”…any verbs that do not show any real action. Instead, use active verbs such as “stomped” or “strode” or “glided” or any of a hundred or so such verbs, as well as “galloped” or “raced” or “stampeded” and for “set”…”plunked” or “slammed” or “slid.”

6. Read aloud and listen for repetition of the same word or words within just a few lines, and for repetition of sentence pattern — as I pointed out regarding that paragraph of “he did this…he did that…he did something else” pattern repetition. Starting consecutive sentences the same way, whether like that or with -ing words or the same kind of phrasing of any kind gets boring very quickly and readers will yawn and go do something other than reading your book. 

7. To further cut word count, read aloud and anything that is awkward to read that way might be a good place to revise and see if you can say what you mean in fewer, more concise words. 

8. Thoughts. Anytime you say, “he thought” and “she thought” you are using too many words and setting the reader outside the character’s point of view. Instead, use a deeper POV, with the actual words of the thought in italics, without the “he thought” or “she thought.” Same goes for “wondered.”

9. All of. In my sentence about thoughts, I first wrote “…setting the reader outside of the character’s…” and then had to go back and edit out the “of” as unnecessary. That’s true of many such instances of the word “of” when it follows “all” or “inside” or “outside” or any such words/usage. Exceptions exist, but check to be sure.

10. Words ending in -ly. These adverbs can get boring quickly (LOL) these days. Evaluate to be sure you really (again, LOL) need them and can’t give the same picture in any other way. For instance, how some one moves or travels can use a descriptive verb instead of a dead one accompanied by an -ly adverb. Try never to use “very” for the same reason. 

11. ”Even” and “ever.” Some authors overuse these words: “I can’t even see the end of the road.” The same meaning conveys without the word “even” in the sentence. “I can’t ever find the needle.” The reader doesn’t care, other than to know she can’t find it now, unless it’s such a character flaw that it affects the plot.

12. Modern words or phrases in an historical setting. This one’s obvious – as much as possible, stay with language your characters might have used, within reason, of course. When in doubt, check with Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary for the first year a word was used or seen in print. If your story is set previous to that, try to find a different word or description for your character to use.

So, overall, make things clear for your readers to understand as they race through your book(s), without using extra wordage to state the obvious (dark woods, heavy sigh, glancing quickly, etc.).

If I think of more, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, go for it…at your own pace. I have had other authors send me books this long and have had to ask them to cut down the word count, and they found they liked their books much better when they finished the process. One or two took a year and more, while a couple of others a number of months. The one who zapped it right back to me within a few weeks, less than one month, had not gotten the idea at all, just made a few changes here and there, unfortunately. 


13. Look out for overuse of “then” and “when” — so often we have a series of things done by one character, given as “this, and this, and then this” and there is obviously no need for “then” to appear at that point, if the activities are listed correctly, in chronological order.

As for “when,” too often it is used (as in the work I was editing for the past couple of hours) instead of “just as” or “at the same time as.”

Example: “She bent to pick up the basket when the boy came and took it for her.” “When” is allowable there only if you change the verb and make it “She had just bent to pick up the basket when the boy came and took it for her.”

What the sentence is meant to say is “She bent to pick up the basket just as the boy came and took it for her.”

Another example: “Maria climbed into the carriage and Sylvia grasped the handrail to follow when George rode up.” Knowing the characters as I do, by this time (nearly 100 pages into the story), I know Sylvia does not want to avoid George at all, so I suggested the sentence read: “…and Sylvia grasped the handrail to follow but stopped as George rode up.” Or it could be “…to follow, at the same time as George rode up.”

14. Look for “up” and “down” used needlessly, as in “He lifted her up and set her down on the bench.” In what other direction would anyone lift someone or something? Or set it? If different, only then say so, as in “He lifted her sideways to the bench” or across the stream or whatever.

Thank you Nan for all your valuable time! This is simply the best.


Comments (4)

  • Laura Strickland

    Wonderful tips for authors who are editing their work. Thank you Linda and Nan!

  • Kim Janine Ligon

    The longer we write, the more we learn. Thanks Nan and Lynn for sharing!

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