You wouldn’t leave the house for a job interview after rolling out of bed. You’d shower, do your hair, apply makeup, and put on your best job-interview-appropriate clothing. Why? Because you want to make a great impression.
No, I’m not suggesting you print your manuscript on resume paper; use special, curly-cue fonts that no-one can read; or include crazy-annoying borders when you format it.
(You, with the balloon border paper…Put. It. Down. Now.)
On Tuesday we discussed:
- Taking a step back from your work.
- View the story as a reader, not the writer.
- Show us. Don’t tell us.
- Using stronger verbs.
Today, let’s consider a few more habits that might prevent your story from looking its very best.
I have a literary ailment I like to call ‘Just Great.’ That’s because I tend to use those two words quite frequently when writing both fiction and non-fiction. In fact, my use of the world ‘just’ in my fiction is practically criminal.
I discovered my tendency to
beat the hell out of overuse those words, and a few others, during an online workshop led by Carina Press Executive Editor, Angela James, a little over a year ago. (Note: Long before I was lucky enough to join the Carina Press team earlier this month.)
I was impressed with how comprehensive Angela’s Before You Hit Send online editing workshop was. During one of the self-paced lessons, conducted via online forum, she made us aware of several words writers tend to overuse.
Once I became aware of those words I
cut back on using them kept right on using them in my writing because, it’s a natural tendency. I don’t worry about how often I use those words when I’m writing initially, but I work hard to eradicate them during self-editing.
Writers often have pet phrases. Not surprising, since most people do, too. But even clever phrasing becomes a distraction when it’s repeated throughout the story. Consider the following example:
A disappointed Jerry shrugged his shoulders and stared at a floor.
A remorseful Sylvia sat over in the corner, barely able to speak.
An annoyed Charlie slapped his hand on the bar. “Why don’t you two just talk to each other and stop sulking?”
I know these are standalone sentences, but imagine them sprinkled throughout a single page, or even across three pages. As a reader, you’d likely still recognize the repeated use of the “a [insert emotion]” device. By the third use you’d be more focused on my use of the phrase than on the story, no matter how good it is. By the tenth use you’d be ready to turn my use of this device into a drinking game.
As you self-edit your manuscript be aware of pet phrasing that distracts the reader.
In my current work-in-progress there was a scene where it was important for me to convey how much my character cared for his girlfriend. It’s essential for the reader to understand his feelings in order for me to show the difficulty of the decision facing my character.
In my eagerness to show this to readers I beat them over the head with it. Repeatedly.
I’d already shown their relationship and his feelings for her in earlier chapters. Having the character state how much he cares for her (through internal and external dialogue) three times in a single chapter was plain old overkill.
To summarize, repetition can be good. Insulting the readers intelligence by telling him the same thing over and over is bad.
The tendencies and bad habits we covered in this post and the last post are a good start. But wouldn’t it be invaluable to hear directly from a buying editor what does and doesn’t work?
You’re in luck. The next session of Before You Hit Send starts next week, on October 8th. Whether you’re a brand new writer, a self-published author, or a veteran eager to improve your craft, this interactive online forum provides a wealth of information that will help you improve your writing through self-editing. The course is only $49. (No, that is not a typo.) It would easily be worth it at ten times as much.
Take a look at your current work-in-progress. Did you notice any of the tendencies mentioned in this week’s blog posts on self-editing? What mistakes do you weed out during self-editing? Share them, and any tips you have, in the comments below.
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Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Alegrya.