We’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, both for ourselves and for our fabulous authors. Because we’ve been doing so much editing, we’ve compiled a list of our top five editing tips to make your writing shine.
Unless you’re in dialog, your characters shouldn’t feel things. We don’t mean they shouldn’t have feelings. But statements like this should be minimized.
I felt his hand.
I saw him smile.
I heard him speak.
I knew he was afraid.
I realized he was happy.
There are much more active and interesting ways to say all of these things.
His hand caressed my arm.
He smiled, and my heart melted a little.
His words were soft, barely audible.
He shook with fear.
His grin spread to his eyes, lighting them with a bright sparkle.
CONTRACTIONS! Use them. Don’t be afraid of them. Please. In this day and age, everyone uses contractions unless you’re writing a character who doesn’t speak English as their first language.
Walked. Walked is about the most boring word in the history of boring words. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But it tells the reader nothing other than conveying movement. Do a search in your manuscript for the word walked and replace a majority of the instances of it.
Instead of “She walked towards me” or “I walk over to him” try something like this.
She stared, narrowing her eyes as she shuffled forward.
She sashayed towards me, her hips swinging seductively.
I drag my feet a little as I move, unwilling to let him see how much I want him.
Our third tip is a little sensitive. It has to do with the word God and applies whether you’re referencing the deity or using it as an invective (Oh my God). Now, whether you’re religious or not, we recommend that you always capitalize God in fiction (note that the gods are a totally different case). Here’s our rationale. If you have a religious reader, and you don’t capitalize God, you could offend them. If you have a non-religious reader and you use the capital letter, they’ll likely not be offended. Even though it can be charged with emotion, we believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Numbers. One of the most common mistakes we see involves spelling out numbers–or rather not spelling them out. For fiction, the Chicago Manual of Style (aka the gold standard for novel editing) states that numbers up to and including one hundred be spelled out. Anything over one hundred isn’t spelled out. “I wanted to buy one hundred lottery tickets.” And: “I wanted to buy 105 lottery tickets.” There are a few exceptions. It’s perfectly acceptable to write out 55 miles per hour or even 55 MPH. The one exception for all numbers is that you can’t start a sentence with an ordinal. Consider this bit of dialog.
“What’s your address?”
“503 Main Street.”
That’s not correct. You could write it out as Five-oh-three Main Street, but it’s more appropriate (and less awkward) to write around it.
“What’s your address?”
“It’s 503 Main Street.”
We hope you enjoyed these editing tips. We’ll be back with more in a few weeks.