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Editing tips and tricks, part 2

I’m mired in edits today and I thought I’d take a break and share with you some of my editing tips and tricks for indie authors. I wrote a (hopefully) helpful little post a few months ago on a few simple things things that I thought all indie authors should do to edit their work. You can find it here.

Now, onto round 2. These tips are a little more advanced than the first set. Let’s go, shall we?

Weak Helper Words

You want every one of your words to count. Actually, really, just totally count. There are a number of words that have found their way into our vernacular that really don’t do much for our prose. When I started editing In His Silks, my first task was to search for the following words and remove as many instances of them as possible.

  • Actually
  • Really
  • Just
  • Finally
  • Though
  • Mostly

I didn’t remove every instance of all of them, but I removed at least 90% of them. There’s no reason for them. Not truly. Oh, and truly is another one that’s probably not needed.

Observations

Consider this sentence. Alexander saw that Elizabeth’s eyes were bloodshot.

It’s not a terrible sentence. It describes the action well enough. Alexander noticed her eyes. Her eyes were bloodshot. But phrases like “he saw”, “he heard”, “she felt” really aren’t necessary. If Alexander and Elizabeth are in the same room and he’s looking at her, it’s enough to say “Elizabeth’s eyes were bloodshot.” Those extra phrases don’t add anything to the narrative. It’s fine to use them once in a while, but try to avoid them as much as you can. If you’re writing in the first person, avoid phrases like “I saw”, “I thought”, and “I knew.”

Passive Verbs

This is one I’m particularly bad at. Again, it’s how we talk. I “was walking”, I “had thought”, we “were planning”, she “had said”. There are more variations, of course, but when you’re editing, contemplate whether a simple past tense verb will do. For example, here’s a passage in my latest WIP I edited.

She had never told Darren no. In the end, he was even choosing her friends for her. She had thought at first that he was being sweet. It wasn’t until he’d stormed out of their apartment for the last time that she’d realized what an ass he’d truly been. He hadn’t ever laid a hand on her, but he’d still abused her.

That’s not a terrible passage. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. This one, however, is better.

She hadn’t realized what a controlling ass Darren was. He chose her friends, told her what to wear, and even suggested she lose weight. At first, she thought it was sweet-that he cared about her. But that last day when he stormed out of their apartment while she cried, she understood. He abused her. He never laid a hand on her, but he abused her all the same. 

Yes, there’s still a passive clause in there “hadn’t realized”, but it’s the only one. Try to minimize your use of passive sentences. They can be powerful when used sparingly. Used repeatedly, they can make your writing appear flat.

Next time we’ll talk about varying your sentence structure. That one’s a doosey.

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