Some Editing Tips

I’m primarily a novelist, but I edit fiction manuscripts as well. While working on my current editing project, I’m finding several areas to delete or suggest rewriting and thought I’d share.One major concern is something I’ve written about before: The dreaded Moving Body Parts. I touched on the subject in the article, “Phrases We Need to Find and Kill” in the Magazine thread, but I’ll add another.

‘He reached out his hand to stroke her cheek.’

What do you see when you read this? I see something like Robo Cop’s arm extending, a mechanical whirring sound accompanying the movement.

I suggest simply writing, ‘He stoked her cheek.’ The reader assumes the guy used his hand, else he’d have to be a super superman.

Unnecessary words:

‘He walked to the door and opened it.’ All of that isn’t necessary. Write instead,

‘He opened the door.’ The reader will assume he had to walk to the door to get to it unless he rode on a skateboard, bike, or flying saucer.

Even better, skip most of the stage movements. If he’s opening the door to a guest, you could say something like:

Marla arrived at the party looking like a starlet from the 1940s, her blonde hair parted in the middle and her gown glittering with emerald sequins. He smiled. She always did love an entrance.

Which reminds me. ‘He smiled.’ You don’t need moving body parts such as, ‘His lips curled in a smile,’ or, ‘The corners of his lips moved upwards.’ Simply, ‘He smiled.’

A common mistake, especially with new writers, is the improper use of tags/attributions in dialogue.

“Get out of my way!” She yelled.

Two things are immediately apparent to most writers and editors. First, the dialogue tells us she yelled, so telling your reader after showing them is redundant.

Second, the dialogue is followed by an attribution, so the first word of the attribution, (she) is not capitalized. It should read:

“Get out of my way!” she yelled.

But a better way to write it would be to drop the attribution and add a character movement:

“Get out of my way!” She ran for the door.

Or if you as the author really want that tag in there, you could write:

“Get out of my way!” Yelling, she ran for the door, or, She yelled as she ran for the door. It all depends on your personal style. But be careful when using ‘as.’ It’s a sign of inactive writing. An occasional use is all right, just don’t go overboard.

Another dialogue problem causes readers and editors to sigh is when writers grasp for words to use instead of ‘said.’

“Get out of my way,” he spewed, coughed, choked. It’s almost impossible to cough out words and acquiring editors know that. Dialogue is one of the first things they check when evaluating a manuscript, so stay on the safe side and simply use ‘said.’ It’s so common that readers see it but don’t stop reading. Other words jar the eyes and cause readers to pause, and that’s something you don’t want – even for a second.

Common misused words:

‘It’s,’ ‘Its.’ Remember the apostrophe is used to show possession, EX:

Mary’s handbag, Joe’s hat.

and as a contraction of two words:

It is going to rain. It’s going to rain. If you’re not sure, try saying or thinking the sentence using the two words It is.

It is the day of reckoning. It’s the day of reckoning.

But, if you’re showing possession of a thing, do NOT use an apostrophe:

The skyscraper stood sixty stories, its top floor shrouded by clouds.

For a collection of articles about writing, click cover below for a Free edition of Writing Your Novel on Smashwords.  

I'm a novelist, short story writer, and I currently serve as CEO for L. Cooper Press, a service for writers. Thomson-Gale bought one of my novels, With Full Malice, for their 5 Star Mystery line, then Harlequin WorldWide Mysteries bought the mass market paperback rights. I lead a novel critique group in Redlands, CA, so if you're in the area and writing a novel, join us: When I can't attend, Amy Fletcher leads the group. You can always contact me through my websites:

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