All writers must learn how to tighten their copy. When we talk about editing, it’s important to understand the difference between plot editing and line editing.
Plot editing addresses the guts of the novel, such as point of view, plot
progression, coherence, voice, and characterization.
Line editing addresses the nuts and bolts of grammar and syntax.
It’s important to address plot editing first, then to go back and refine grammatical elements. But remember that eliminating unnecessary words makes stories and articles cleaner, easier to follow, and more professional. And mastering the basics of grammar demonstrates to editors that you ARE a writing professional.
Eliminate the following words and phrases as you edit your work:
1. In order to/ start to/began to. Whenever you see “in order to” or “start to” or “began to” in your writing, get rid of them. No questions asked.
2. There are/there is. If possible, avoid starting a sentence with “There are…/there is.” Drop the “There are” and starting the sentence with the next word, then modify the rest of the phrase to make it work. Start with a word that actually helps you tell the story. That way, you’re not only tightening, you’re also adding sentence variation, which makes your work more interesting to read.
3. That. About ninety-five percent of the uses of “that” can be eliminated from sentences.
4. Currently. The word “currently” is always redundant unless you live and write in past tense (hmmm…) or need to use the word to establish delineations in time.
5. Very, really, and exclamation points. Get rid of these empty qualifiers that add very little. (Pet peeve: very unique. Unique means “one of a kind.” Something is either one of a kind, or it isn’t.) And allow yourself three exclamation points a year unless you’re writing a zombie novel and everyone is being eaten alive. Yeah, I’m kidding. No I’m not.
6. Thing. Choose a specific word that actually communicates a precise thing (object/noun). Ha ha. Gotcha.
Edit for grammatical errors.
7. Correct misplaced and dangling modifiers and awkward sentence constructions. If you’re not sure how to find them, hire a good proofreader. If you’re not sure how to correct them, check out Grammar Girl at http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/
8. Beware of passive voice. Whenever possible, rewrite passive voice to active voice, unless you’ve chosen passive voice for a specific reason (good reasons for writing in passive voice do exist). Again, for more clarification on active and passive voice, visit Grammar girl at http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/.
9. Check your spelling.Check for “there/their/they’re, effect/affect, then/than, it’s/its and other commonly misspelled words. Spell check will not catch these kinds of problems.
10. Check for subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement, and consistent verb tense.If you’re not sure what I’m even talking about, employ a GOOD proofreader to read through your final draft, but take a crash course in the rudiments of grammar yourself. All writers need to understand the tools of their trade.
11. Check for cohesiveness and logical progression of thought. Does your writing flow in a logical progression? Have you used topic sentences and a variety of sentences lengths and structures?
12. Check for appropriate tone, voice, and point of view. If you don’t know what these terms mean, you’ll need more info than I can include here. Check the internet or and brush up. (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King; Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell).
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