Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Editing - the final checks

Every writer has quirks, and some quirks - such as overusing a word or using a repetitive sentence structure - aren't good. You can creatively use Word's search tool to pick up certain quirks that may otherwise distract a reader. A few tips:

1. Uncommon words: Is there a particular unusual word that you worry about overusing? Count how many times it appears by going to Find and Replace - type the word in both boxes and hit Replace All. This gives you a count for that word. (Here's an example from MCP: don't use cornucopia twice in the same novel unless you're talking about a cone stuffed with food.)

2. Common words: Do you overuse common words like actually, really, quite, very? I have a problem with just. This word doesn't harm an individual sentence, but use it too often and it starts to stand out. During my final edit, I search for every occurrence and fix as many as I can. In the case of just, this usually means (just) deleting it from the sentence.

3. Sentence structure: Another quirk of mine is the "comma but" sentence structure. There's nothing wrong with it, but I tend to overuse it. Count the occurrences as above (find and replace
", but") and if you use more than one per two pages, fix as many as you can to add variation. For example: While there's nothing wrong with it, I tend to overuse it.

In many cases, the best solution is to split the sentence into two. I think this results in stronger writing. The "but" preempts your second point. Without it, the second sentence comes as a surprise.

Her eyes shone when she mentioned the children, but it didn't fool him.
Her eyes shone when she mentioned the children. It didn't fool him.

4. -ing verbs: The -ing form of a verb, combined with was or were, forms the past progressive tense: He was singing. This structure can make your action drag and feel less immediate. Use the simple past tense instead:

The rain was drumming on the roof. She was feeling cooped-up and restless.
The rain drummed on the roof. She felt cooped-up and restless.

Searching for -ing verbs and fixing where you can may take several hours for a full-length manuscript. ( , but) I think it's worth the effort.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

Ooo! I like that Find/Replace with the exact same word tip. I didn't think of that.