As I’m progressing toward publication, I’m working through revisions requested by editors. I thought I’d share a few tips and pointers. If you can take care of these before you submit, your work might be better received by editors and agents.
Read it aloud
If you can manage to do it, read your work aloud or have someone read it to you. One author I know has the Dragon Naturally Speaking software read her manuscript to her. Reading it aloud makes you aware of missing words and, in some cases, overused ones. (Example: I had my characters winking and smiling so much they had nervous tics.) Hearing your words also makes you aware of how your sentences sound. Are they short and choppy? Have you written a sentence that’s ten lines long?
I read better on paper, plus it’s easier to mark up when I see problems. If you need to, print your manuscript, hole-punch it, and put it in a binder.
And yes, it sounds weird and I feel self-conscious (for the first ten minutes). I don’t read out loud when my husband is home.
Minimize the use of these words
If you find these words as you’re reading, see if you can take them out without changing the meaning of the sentence, or see if you can find a stronger, more active, word.
Other things to avoid
The directional words: up and down. You don’t have to say “sat down” or “stood up.” If I say “Bill stood,” you assume “up” (unless you’re in the military or are a first responder). Same with sat. “Suzy sat at the table.” You assume she sat down. She didn’t sit up at the table (unless she was lying down in her chair and then … bad Suzy).
“Off of.” Try only using “off.”
‘Basically’ and ‘literally.’ Basically, never use these. Literally.
Count your exclamation points. One of my publishers says five in an entire manuscript is plenty.
These guidelines apply (generally) to narration and prose, not necessarily to dialogue. Your characters might use them, because characters don’t always have perfect grammar. Be true to your characters’ speech patterns.
However, that exception does NOT apply to exclamation marks, which should only be in dialogue. Don’t have your characters exclaiming everything. This is where reading aloud helps me. I put the inflection into the dialogue, and every time I see a !, I imagine a squeal (if they’re excited) or a shout (if they’re angry). Would your characters do that in those circumstances? If they’re having an argument, try using dialogue tags like snap, growl, sneer …
Check your work
After you’ve read your manuscript, go back and do a search and replace for the words to avoid. You’ll be surprised how many you still find. You’re used to hearing them, and you skip over them.
Learn the skill
If you can possibly do it, find a good self-editing class. This is the one I took, and the improvement in my writing was noticeable. They’re offering another one in October (hint, hint).
This is just the tip of the editing iceberg. Sometime soon we’ll cover adverbs (boo, hiss) and filter words (hiss, boo).
Have a great month! I’ll be over in the corner with my red pen … editing.