In honor of NaNoWriMo starting, I thought I’d start this series to add a bit more to the ‘writer’ part of A Writer Cooks. If you want to see more after November, please let me know you liked it by leaving a comment! Or suggest what topics you’d like to see tips on.
No, I’m not technically your editor (though I can be, just click the ‘Hire Me’ link at the top!) but if you want to write and be published, your work will need to go through an editor at some point. Knowing some things to work on will really help you out and save your editor some time.
I am a freelance editor, have been for 2–3 years now, and I edit a lot of terrible stuff. Harsh, but true. So many people just finish a first draft and send it off, thinking it’s the editor’s job to fix it. Well, technically it is, but I can’t see the big picture of your work if I have to fix dialogue tags and commas every few paragraphs. It’s the writer’s job to make their work the best they can, and then it’s the editor’s job to polish it up some more.
Here are five simple tips for things to watch for before you send your work to an editor.
Nothing brings me out of a story faster than inconsistency. That goes for story, dialogue, grammar and formatting. When you make a choice in your story, stick with it. If you have your character in a foreign country arriving somewhere by taxi, don’t have her leave the scene driving her own car. I’ll be going, “Wait, what?” (true example from a book I edited). If you call the character’s car red in one sentence then blue in the next one, it just looks sloppy (another real example). And if your characters are drinking scotch, don’t say a few paragraphs later ‘they raised their wine glasses’ (ditto).
Formatting and grammar are other things you really need to be consistent with. Don’t indent some paragraphs and not others. Don’t use italics to denote thoughts and then use quotes later on. This is one of the areas where you don’t have to be correct, for example with indenting. Just make it all the same and it can be fixed later.
2. Word Choice and Vocabulary
I lied. Word choice can bring me out of a story faster than inconsistency. Don’t bring out your thesaurus while you’re writing except in an important case (I’ll explain later). If you use a big word that the majority of your readers don’t understand, you lose something. You’re going for a very specific meaning by using that word, and your readers won’t get that meaning if they don’t understand the word. I’m not saying dumb your writing down by any means. Just keep your writing understandable for the most part. Most readers aren’t going to put your book down every other page to look a word up in the dictionary (though I do, to make sure the word really fits the context). This is a stylistic choice though, so I don’t edit big words out (unless they don’t mean what you think they mean).
I edit a lot of romance. And I mean a lot. Clean, steamy, whatever, it pays the bills. It’s thanks to this that I can’t read romance anymore for the most part. When writing a sex scene (or any scene really), word choice matters, it sets the tone. Something about clinical terms for the naughty bits takes me out of the scene. There’s a fine balance between crazy euphemisms (true story, I edited a book with more than 40 different names for male parts: don’t do that) and an anatomy dictionary. In my personal opinion (others may differ), it’s better to leave them out altogether and leave a little more to the imagination.
3. Repetition and Monotony
For the love of all that is holy, pick up your thesaurus once in a while. Not to find a new way of saying something, but to make sure you’re being varied in your language. I’ve worked on several books by one particular author who is in love with the word ‘gaze’, and eyes in particular. In a book of about 130 pages, just the word gaze was used 81 times. The characters were always locking gazes and throwing gazes and cutting gazes and meeting gazes. Their eyes were stormy or electric or heated depending on the current mood. Please don’t do this. I know the eyes are the windows to the soul, but body language says a lot too. Use more senses, don’t remind us of the hero’s amazing green eyes on every page. We get it.
This goes for anything that appears in your story. Don’t use synonyms for everything, just make sure you’re mixing things up a bit. Don’t have every character use the phrase ‘oh man’ or ‘oh boy’ in their dialogue or thoughts. If you want to repeat something like that, especially if it’s the way you yourself talk, give it to one character to repeat as a catchphrase. If everyone does it, you’re not letting your characters have unique voices.
4. Basic English
This is farther down the list because it’s something that most people get right, but it is incredibly jarring to see when it goes wrong. This can happen because the writer has English as a second language, or they just slept through English class a bit too much. Please make sure that you’re using words correctly. Malapropisms happen a lot. This is the kind of thing like ‘for all intensive purposes’ or ‘doggy-dog world’ (for all intents and purposes, and dog-eat-dog world, respectively). It comes down to basically knowing what you’re trying to say and understanding the common phrase for it instead of parroting what you think it might be.
Also, every editor’s pet peeve is probably the common words used interchangeably, like to/too, they’re/their/there, accept/except, and etc. It’s important to brush up on these if you want to write seriously. No one really cares if you use them wrong online, but you might form bad habits that carry over to your writing.
I know editors are also called proofreaders sometimes, but please don’t send us your first draft that you haven’t even read through once yourself. It’s clear to us when you haven’t done it. I recently edited a book where every other paragraph had words missing, usually ‘the’ or pronouns, and some sentences just made no sense at all. One read through before you send it in can make a huge difference, even better if you or someone else reads it out loud all the way through. You’ll hear any mistakes loud and clear.
Questions? Comments? Clarifications? Please subscribe if you want to be notified the next time one of these posts go up, and leave me a comment about what you think about these tips. If you have a writing or editing question for me, feel free to ask. And be sure to check out my ‘Hire Me’ page to see what I can do for you.