Let’s Talk Editing! Part 3

When editing, remember that there are subjective AND non-negotiable* elements… and even the non-negotiable* parts have an asterisk next to them.

Take echoes, for example. An echo is when you use the same word multiple times over a short period. However, you might want to do that on purpose for effect, to emphasize something, draw attention to the repetition.

Authors can, have, and will continue to play with the rules. Some will use them as a jump rope. The editor’s job isn’t to applaud this, but to be their Jiminy Cricket. To tut-tut and say in a disapproving voice, “Are you sure?”

Most of the time, though, a mistake is a mistake for a reason. If you’re showering adverbs around like confetti, it is almost certainly going to sound bad (or at least amateur).

But what if you’re writing something whimsical and an overuse of adverbs plays into that tone? Heck, Dan Brown overuses adverbs quite a bit, and as a writer he… well… er… he makes lots of money, at least.

Bottom line: Writers should be free to break the rules, but should always do so from an informed position.

So, without further ado, here’s the last batch of common mistakes to watch out for.

rewrite edit text on a typewriter
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Watch your Tags and Actions: When you are writing dialogue, remember that how you stage events reflects on how a reader interprets who is saying what and when. Even if it is an action outside of a dialogue tag, it can be seen as being tied to the speaker. Note how moving the action below changes how we interpret who says what, and how the first example could be misinterpreted.

“What did you want to do tonight, sis?” Christina thought about it and checked her watch.
“I don’t think we have time for a movie.”


“What did you want to do tonight?”
Christina thought about it and checked her watch. “I don’t think we have time for a movie.”

Also note this would be even more confusing if the action was just Christina checked her watch.

Short sentence paragraphs (a lesson in haiku form):

They are effective
But easy to overuse
Wait for the moment

Overuse of italics, scare quotes, ellipses, etc…

Typographical tricks of any sort—italics, ‘scare quotes,’ bold, CAPS—are an acknowledgement of failure to convey meaning through words, and should only be used only when absolutely necessary. Of course, what qualifies as ‘absolutely necessary’ varies from writer to writer.

But re-read the last sentence and ask yourself if the scare quotes I used were needed. It might be if I was going for a sarcastic tone, but not if I’m playing it straight.

Simplify, not complexify… er… make more complex: Sometimes you’ll come across a problem while writing a story, a plot hole or a world feature that doesn’t make sense. The temptation is often to explain things more. But sometimes reduction works better, or looking for a different approach altogether.

Let’s say I’m in the process of writing a science fiction story in which a star is about to go nova and a plucky starship team is sent somewhere to stop it from happening. But by the end of the story, I’ve actually kind of forgotten that element, since the evil terrorists sent to stop them end up being far more interesting. Do I write a lengthy scientific explanation at the end as to why the sun didn’t go nova? Probably not. I’d only write enough to satisfy the reader’s curiosity.

The question I should ask once I’m finished that first draft is, “is the fact the sun was going nova even relevant anymore?” If it’s not, perhaps that is the part of the story that needs to be changed. Maybe they’re checking unusual solar activity instead (which could keep earlier scenes where they are checking readings relevant with minor tweaking). Something to consider when you are world building—know when to add, and know when to subtract.

This applies for the small scale stuff as well. When you think about it, “stood up” is redundant. “Stood” is fine. Same goes for “sat down” or “nodded his head”. The first word does the job. The rest aren’t needed.

Garbage Words: This was brought to my attention by one of my readers and expanded upon from the excellent book Dreyer’s English. Watch for times where superfluous words like these can be deleted with no ill effect on sentence structure:

Very, Rather, Really, Quite, In fact,
Just, So, Pretty, Of course, Actually,
Surely, That said, Then, And then.

I admit I sometimes have a problem with these. I’ll delete a number of them only to insert them myself in other places. And there are times where it’s appropriate to use them for style or tone, but it’s still something to watch out for. Think of them like adverbs, but don’t be quite as homicidal around them.

When it comes to making a point, sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. The article below covers many (though not all) of what I’ve talked about, as well as a few I hadn’t mentioned. I figure having a look couldn’t hurt, since the way she phrases things might click in places where my ramblings did not.


Now that I’ve shared all of these, are there any rules you think I should add? Or do you have any thoughts on what I’ve covered? Let me know!

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