Common Editing Misses

One of our editors is a retired English teacher, and quite possibly the most thorough editor I’ve ever come across in terms of grammar. This editor has a list of common grammar mistakes missed consistently during editing (whether by writers OR by previous editors).

Some of these grammar rules may be a preference of a given publisher to not apply in favor of a less formal voice. However, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, it helps to be aware of the rules. I thought I’d share her list today and get them on your radar. (Do consult with your editor about these.)

Lie / Lay
With this one it helps to remember that “to lay” is referring to objects, and “to lie” is referring to a person’s body doing the action.


*table from chompchomp.com

Like / As
Using like vs. as when preceding a comparison, here’s the trick…

If the comparison phrase has no verb, you use “like.”

She trembled like a leaf.
The heat in his gaze disappeared like a cool mist.

If the comparison phrase has a subject and verb, you MUST use “as” or “as though”.

She trembled as a leaf fluttering to the ground might tremble.
The heat in his gaze disappeared, as though he’d mentally taken a step back.

They (for one person)
When writing about a nameless person for whom you have not yet identified the gender, it can get tricky from a grammatical standpoint. Most writers will then refer to that person as “they.”

Ex. The thief was stealthy. They’d managed to get by all our security. They must move like a ninja.

The problem with this is “they” is plural, referring to more than one person. To be technically correct, you should write the above example in the following way:

Ex. The thief was stealthy. He or she had managed to get by all our security. He or she must move like a ninja.

This, obviously, can become quite clunky especially in fiction writing. We recommend reworking the sentence to try to avoid it when possible. Ask your publisher for his or her preference as well.

Ex. The thief was stealthy with skills like a ninja, because not a single one of our security measures had been tripped. 

Hopefully these were helpful. What common grammar mistakes do you find either you miss or often get missed in editing?

The Little Signs of Lazy Writing

little-things-fw1Lazy writing. Writer’s try their best to avoid it, but slipping into the simplicity lazy writing affords is easy to do. Articles abound on the internet on lazy writing, most focusing on wider concepts such as showing vs. telling.

Today, we’re going to focus on the little details that a simple search can help you track down and revise. These are words and phrases common in spoken English that sound natural in our heads, but can come across the readers as boring.

As with 100% of writing/editing advice, we’re not suggesting you kill every instance of these words and phrases. Instead, try looking at the frequency that word/phrase pop up in your writing. Also look at each individual usage and determine if a fix would make the writing more awkward or would improve the prose.

Look for these words and phrases in your latest work in progress. See where you can change them.

Boring Words

It/there/was/is are all signals of boring writing, particularly when in combinations like below. See if you can take these words and replace them with more specific nouns or more active verbs. Watch out for making the sentence more awkward or repeating nouns in a paragraph.

 

  • it is
  • it was
  • there is
  • there was
  • there were
  • there are

Needless Words

Needless words come in two major forms–too big or redundant

Big Words

Big words may sound pretty, but may also have readers hunting for a thesaurus. These words can also be too formal or used regionally, but not generally. The tricky part with big words is when you are a reader yourself. People who read a lot–especially varied genres and styles–tend to know more words than people who don’t. They use these words naturally.

We’re not saying don’t use big words. We’re saying watch out for words that could fall under this category and try to decide if using those words is worth it. Check out this list of “big words” and alternatives.

Redundant Words

Redundant words are words would could be cut out of the sentence with zero impact to the sentence. They are simply extra letters on the page. Redundant words frequently take the form of small prepositional words and phrases.

  • He got off of the couch.
  • She backed up against the counter.
  • He jumped down off the ladder.
  • His heart pounded in his chest.
  • She thought to herself.
  • He crossed his arms over his chest.

Mental Pauses

Both in thoughts and in spoken English we naturally insert pauses. People who speak for a living–newscasters, politicians, teachers–practice to remove these words from their speech. Writers should work to remove these from their writing. Just as they give listeners pause when hearing them, they give readers pause when reading them. They interrupt the flow.

  • oh
  • well
  • um
  • uh
  • ah
  • you know

Qualifiers

Qualifiers are words which are used to convey a quantity or size, but are generic and consequently don’t add much to the picture you, as the writer, are attempting to convey. Delete these words or find a better word.

 

  • really
  • very
  • so
  • a lot
  • some

Ex. He was really tall.

You could simply say “tall” and have the same effect, or you could say “towering” and convey a clearer picture to your reader.

Check out this list of alternatives for the use of “very”.

Editing Technique: Ask Questions

 

An effective editing technique when it comes to editing for content/plot is to ask questions. Seems simple, right? But many authors and beta readers don’t do this enough. By applying this technique, you can find plot hots and inconsistencies, you can also make sure you are addressing every concept which is mentioned (even the little details), and ensure your characters are acting consistently and realistically (rather than just for the sake of the plot point you need).

Q-and-A

Here’s how it works…

Editor/Beta Reader/Self-Editing: As you read, write down or use comments in MS Word to ask questions, even if you think they are obvious or probably are answered later.

Applying Edits: If the question is answered later, think about the timing of when it gets answered (too late? too soon? just right?). If it doesn’t get answered, then go back into your manuscript and answer it. OR, if it’s a question that won’t be answered until a later book in the series, make note of that so you are sure to answer it later down the line.

In the end, every question that could be posed should have an answer of some sort.

That simple.

EXAMPLE

Here’s an example from a recent beta read we performed which the author gave us permission to use.

Read the excerpt and try to ask questions. Below the excerpt is a list of questions that could have been asked during reading.

We had the author read through the questions and apply edits to the section. Questions which, after edits, get answered during the passage are crossed out. She left notes on the remaining questions.

 

Read the Excerpt:

Tala stood in the small room off the main foyer of the chapel where she was shortly to wed the leader of the Banes pack of werewolves—a man recently considered her enemy. Outwardly she projected her usual calm, collected self. Inside, nerves and doubts pummeled her. She’d bitten her lipstick off countless times, a sure sign of her agitation.

“All set?” Her wedding coordinator popped her head into the room to ask.

“Absolutely.”

“Great. As soon as everyone is seated, we’ll begin.” The woman disappeared in a flurry of movement. As a hummingbird shifter, she didn’t sit still well, Tala had learned over the last few months.

Needing a moment of peace, even if temporary, Tala turned her attention to the view. The small Rocky Mountain chapel nestled on top of a large rock base, built of the same granite as the rock, almost as though it had been placed there since the beginning of time. Below, a small, creek-fed lake reflected the starry sky and the spire of the chapel.

Such a setting was perfect for this event as werewolves preferred to surround themselves with nature. After the wedding ceremony both Marrok’s and Tala’s families and friends would follow them into the wooded mountainside for the mating ceremony illuminated by the full moon, with a reception afterwards at a nearby hotel. That was, if they didn’t all kill each other first.

“No bloodshed.” She whispered the prayer to any gods listening.

“What’d you say?” Her sister’s voice broke into her plea.

Tala winced. Damn werewolf hearing. “Nothing.”

The Banes and Canis packs had been locked in a bloody feud for ages. Once upon a time, they’d been the same pack. But a battle for alpha between brothers had torn the original pack into two, one taking the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains as their territory, the other taking the western slopes.

This mating would reunite the two packs for the first time, and, by some miracle, end the fighting. Centuries of blood and death, finally over. Her entire goal for wanting to be Alpha in the first place—to establish a peace too long denied. At least, that was the plan. Not everyone agreed.

A glance over her shoulder showed her sister still peering through a cracked doorway into the chapel beyond.

“Shyla,” she hissed. “Get away from the door.”

In response, Shyla wiggled her provocative backside, covered in a pale turquoise bridesmaid gown which matched the beading on Tala’s wedding dress, and continued to report on the scene in the sanctuary. “Marrok looks amazing in a tux. You lucky girl. Come see.”

“No, thank you.” Tala left the window and sat, her hands folded primly in her lap.

Shyla glanced over her shoulder. “Tala Canis, aren’t you even the least bit interested in your future husband?”

Tala lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I’ve seen him.”

Shyla shook her head, returning to her perusal of the guests. “I’d be all over that man if I were you,” she muttered. “I’m surprised your wolf isn’t dry humping him every second of the day.”

“Shyla! Someone might hear you,” she rebuked her sister.

Mate, the beast caged inside her rumbled.

No. Means to an end. She and her wolf had been having this debate ever since they’d gotten their first whiff of the alpha of the Banes pack. Sandalwood and rum. If she were less self-controlled, Tala could get drunk on his scent alone.

Truth be told, she wasn’t nearly as uninterested in her husband of convenience as she made out, but she refused to give her perplexing desire any serious weight given their situation.

When a werewolf mated, pheromones were released, igniting lust not only in the couple, but in anyone near them. The more powerful the werewolf, the more pheromones released. In this case she and Marrok were both the ruling alphas of their packs. The first time two alpha werewolves had mated in the history of their kind—female alphas were rare. Consequently, pheromones hung heavy in the air, a sweet perfume of heady need, regardless of the fact that this marriage wasn’t a love match.

Shyla backed up as the door opened unexpectedly. Sandalio, one of the oldest wolves in their pack, entered.

He ignored Shyla and walked straight to where Tala sat. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

She remained calm in the face of what she recognized as a veiled threat. “I do. And I hope you know what will happen if your support isn’t total.”

Two could play at the threats game, only hers wasn’t as subtle. She wouldn’t mind kicking the old man out on his ear. He was a pain in her butt.

Sandalio narrowed his eyes, but bowed his head in acknowledgement. “My…felicitations on this most joyous occasion.”

“Thank you.”

She exchanged a long suffering look with Shyla as he left.

“He’s going to cause problems,” Shyla warned as she resumed her position at the door observing the other room.

“I know.” Tala would deal with Sandalio when he made his move. Until then, she had bigger problems.

She hoped like hell the scheme of uniting the two packs through marriage would end the fighting. Otherwise, she was about to bind herself to a stranger, an enemy, no less, for nothing. If their wolves bonded as well—and, given her wolf’s possessive behavior already, that was a distinct possibility—their mating would become permanent. She stood the chance of losing her pack, and possibly her life, for the attempt. Many in her pack were fuming about the idea already.

Mate, her wolf purred again, content with what they were about to do. Eager even.

The hussy would’ve already claimed Marrok’s wolf if they’d let them loose together. She practically rolled over anytime Marrok was near, panting with lust, pushing Tala’s own need even higher. Tala would be glad when this ceremony was over and the overwhelming cloud of insta-lust started to dissipate.

“Who’s the hottie standing up with Marrok?” Shyla asked.

They’d each opted to have only one person stand up with them. She’d asked her sister, but Marrok didn’t have any siblings. “Castor Dioskouri—a Greek demigod.”

“That explains why every single female in there can’t peel her eyes off him. Which god made him?”

“I’m not sure actually.”

“Huh. Is he single?”

“Don’t bother. He’s here with—”

“The blond in the backless navy dress? Yeah. He hasn’t unglued his eyes from her since she arrived.”

Tala knew the blond. “Leia’s just his Executive Assistant.”

Shyla hooted. “Do you really believe that’s all she is to him?”

“No. But she’s a nymph…” Nymphs had an uncanny ability to resist gods and demigods when they wished. Leia certainly appeared to wish it.

Shyla flicked a glance over her shoulder. “The one you told me about?”

Tala nodded.

“Is she going to help?”

Factions in both packs were staunchly, if quietly, against this mating. Centuries of hate ran deep and would not be buried in an instant. If they could manage to fulfill an age-old prophesy, or fake it, maybe the tides might turn their way.

All werewolves knew of the foretelling that two alphas—a male and a female—would unite their people in peace. The sign would be a display of nature as had never been witnessed before.

QUESTIONS

Why is she marrying her enemy?

They’ve only been engaged a few months? Why so fast? (Author: Decided that this was obvious enough in the marriage of convenience and trying to avoid bloodshed comments.)

What is the purpose of combining feuding packs?

Why would Tala take the personal risk? (Author: Somewhat answered in the “ending the bloodshed” in this chapter but also answered in more depth later in the book.)

Why is a Greek god Marrok’s best man? (Author: Answered later. Addressed in-depth in another book)

Why would Leia help Tala and Marrok? And what do you mean by help? (Author: Answered later. Addressed in-depth in another book.)

 

What Did You Catch?

Did you have other questions we missed? Is this something you already apply in your own writing or might like to try? What other techniques work for you?

What Makes A Good Critiquer?

Receiving critiques from beta readers, critique partners, and even fans who have volunteered to provide you feedback on your latest WIP, is an important step in the writing process. One which takes a while to develop as you search for people who give you good feedback, quickly, and don’t mind being “bugged” on a regular or semi-regular basis.

what-makes-a-good-critiquerLet’s address the first part of that… What Makes a Good Critiquer?

Many times, beta readers and critique partners return notes and suggestions which are too basic. Or perhaps too nice is the word? On a single page they might make one small correction, and as lovely as that is for your pride (and as much as you appreciate the time they took to help – because you absolutely do), it’s not what you’re looking for as an author. And on the critiquer’s side, the tricky part about doing a critique or a beta read is wanting to give advice while at the same time not changing an author’s voice or offending them into despising you.

Here’s the problem: a critique is just that…critical.

The JOB of a critiquer or a beta reader is to BE A CRITIC. To point out those things that need work, that need fixing, that could be done better–at least in their opinion. And the reason an author asks for a critique is to help them find those things. You WANT to make your manuscript better.

Don’t get me wrong. Receiving a heavily critiqued manuscript with red slashes through everything can be rough on the ego. But if the goal is to get better, sometimes a bruised ego is worth it. Right?

We could devote months to what kind of edits we could be applying. But let’s at least touch on what a good critiquer or beta reader will do for you:

WILL – Critique EVERYTHING

A good critiquer or beta reader WILL look for any and every instance where an aspect of the manuscript might be improved (from word choice, to character development, to flow, to pace, to…well…everything). You should get back 3 things:

  1. Direct edits within the text

This can be grammar changes, but, more importantly, it should include suggested word changes, clarifications, moving paragraphs or lines for flow, etc.

  1. Notes about specific sections of text

This is cleanest if done with Comments in MS Word. Notes can be as simple as “this sentence is awkward, try to reword,” or can affect a large chunk of text, such as “the last few chapters have been slow, pick up the pace.” You can also use notes to add praise (important).

  1. Overarching notes about the manuscript as a whole

This doesn’t have to be an essay on the manuscript. But a few lines. For example “Loved the overall plot, but the middle felt slow. I also didn’t connect with the heroine. You might consider making her more sympathetic.”

WILL – Find the Positive

A good critiquer or beta reader will also point out the GOOD stuff. An author can grow just as much by getting feedback on what they do well. Knowing what you do well helps you incorporate more of it. Plus, it helps you not take the more critical aspects of the feedback so hard. 🙂

WILL NOT – Insert Their Voice

A good critiquer or beta reader will NOT insert their voice into your manuscript. This can be difficult, as most folks who will edit for you are probably authors themselves. A good way to avoid this, when giving a critique, is to only make changes in line (in the text) which are basic edits.

Anything that is a “bigger” edit, make it a suggestion using Comments in Word (under the Review tab). Even something like “this sentence is awkward” in a comment can be better than actually rewording that sentence for the author unless you have a very specific way to reword it that doesn’t change the feel or meaning.

WILL – Be Respectful

Finally, a good critiquer or beta reader will treat the author with RESPECT. Someone who makes you feel like a total idiot is not a good critique partner or beta reader for you. This may not even be their fault, it could just be a difference in how you communicate. But the goal of a critique is to HELP you improve, not to break you down.

 

These are just a few key aspects of what makes a good critiquer or beta reader. You will probably have to try many helpers before you develop a solid base of folks who you work with regularly. If you come across a critique that doesn’t jive with how you work, with your voice, or what you’re looking to get out of the critique, move on to someone else. (Yes, sometimes easier said than done.) But when you do find someone whose feedback jives with yours, treat them well. You want to keep those gems around!