Editing Your Novel: Technical Tips #1

Tip #1: Get Rid of Useless Words that Clutter Your Manuscript

Useless words include: so, very, that, although, yet, rather, just, nearly, even, sort of, almost, in spite of, perhaps, quite, for a moment, then, suddenly

RULE: Wherever these words show up, cut them out unless they are absolutely necessary to the structure of your sentence!

Tip #2: Avoid Redundancy in Preposition Use

Remember that preposition means “anywhere a mouse can go”. “Over”, “under”, “in”, “out”, “down”, “around”, etc are all examples of prepositions. To refresh your memory, here’s a comprehensive list of single-word and multiple-word prepositions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_prepositions

RULE: If two prepositions are right next to one another in a sentence, you most likely do NOT need one of them.

Example: He jumped up onto the porch.
Correction: He jumped onto the porch.

Example: He looked down at his feet.
Correction: He looked at his feet.

Tip #3: Define Indefinite Words

Any word that can be specified further, should be.

A: Indefinite words include “it”, “they”, “some”, “many”, “few”, etc.

Example: Don’t say “it” or “they”.
Correction: Instead, specify who or what you’re talking about.

Example: Don’t say “some”, “few”, or “many”.
Correction: Instead give an exact number of the people, places, or things you are talking.

B: Indefinite words also include words that are just plain general and non-specific (i.e. cat, dog, horse, water, etc).

Example: Don’t say “dog”.
Solution: Instead, say “Maltese” or “Rottweiler”.

Special Note: Sometimes, giving the actual make of a car, breed of a dog, or clothing brands might distract your readers and take them out of the story. In these instances, if you don’t want to specify your indefinite words, use description instead.

For example, maybe for your story, a Maltese breed of dog is a signal of the economic differences between two characters. In this case, instead of emphasizing the breed of dog, you might want to highlight the perfect cut of the dog’s nails, the silkened and conditioned coat, its hand-knitted cashmere sweater, etc. Whatever you mean to convey, give details that will color your story!

Tip #4: Get Rid of (Most) Adverbs

Quick definition of an adverb: any word that modifies or emphasizes a verb or an adjective.

Over-used adverbs include: very, so, kind of, really, totally, actually, seems, suddenly, probably, could have, hopefully, just, perfect, viciously, usually

RULE: As my creative writing teacher says, “Only use the adverbs that are perfect.” And I mean perfect. Not “good enough” or “pretty good”. Perfect, as in there is no other word on the planet (or at least in your own lexicon) that fits what you mean to say better than this adverb you are using. All other adverbs should go the way of the dodo. Tell ’em “buh-bye”.

Tip #5: Turn Passive Voice into Active Voice

Writing in the passive voice means that you are letting the subject become the object.

Example 1: I was hit by the ball.

Example 2: Sarah was bitten by the dog.

Example 3: The money had been laundered by the crooks.

There are three signs of passive voice:

  1. Some form of “to be” (i.e. was, had been, is, etc) is in the sentence.
  2. If “to be” is present, it is usually in the past tense.
  3. The object can become the subject, the subject can become the object, and the verb can be changed to simple past tense. For example:
  • I was hit by the ball. (passive) → The ball hit me. (active)
  • Sarah was bitten by the dog. → The dog bit Sarah. (active)
  • The money had been laundered by the crooks. → The crooks laundered the money. (active)

RULE: Always write in the active voice whenever possible!

BONUS Tip: Print Your Manuscript in Large Print, and Read it Out Loud SLOWLY

This tip is indispensable!

Reading your work in a hardcopy, large print format provides less strain on your eyes and also allows you to see you mistakes more clearly. You can also make edits right there on the paper with your almighty red pen!

Reading aloud slowly literally forces you to read what’s actually on the paper, not what your brain is automatically filling in for you. This method really helps to highlight all those little mistakes that might be hard to catch even after multiple edits. For example, how many times have we meant to type “in”, but typed “is” instead? It happens all the time! While we are reading, our brains turn that “s” into an “n”, and we might miss this small but very important mistakes. Reading aloud helps to minimize that as much as possible before you send your final manuscript to an editor.

Hope this was helpful for you! 😉


Keep it indie,

<3 Colby