by Doug Lewars
If you want to become a better writer, become a better editor.
If you want to become a better editor, edit work that is not your own.
I recently joined a local writers’ group and was requested to comment on various extracts from group members completed and in-progress work. I quickly found a number of recommendations I could make for improvement, but what came as a bit of a surprise, was when I went back and started editing some of my own work, I found exactly the same things there. One common mistake is using names too frequently when a pronoun would suffice.
Sitting in the audience that night was Raymond Perricord. Raymond had come because the sister of one of the girls in his class was in the choir which meant that she would probably come to cheer on her sister, and since Raymond would have walked through hot coals for her it made sense for him to come too and chance running into her.
Better would be:
Sitting in the audience that night was Raymond Perricord. He had come because the sister of one of the girls in his class was in the choir which meant that she would probably come to cheer on her sister, and since he would have walked through hot coals for her it made sense for him to come too and chance a meeting.
The change from ‘Raymond’ to ‘he’ smooths the reading just slightly. In some cases it’s quite a bit worse but you get the idea. The second change was from ‘running into her’ to ‘a meeting’. The reader already knows what Raymond is hoping for. Reducing the number of words improves the flow.
Watch out for redundancies and awkward phrasing. They can be easy to overlook.
Jane took Raymond’s arm on the left and Gail took it on the right and they headed for a nearby restaurant with the guys and the remaining girl closely following behind.
Jane took Raymond’s left arm while Gail took his right and they headed for a nearby restaurant with the rest closely following.
One technique I’ve found that helps is to have the computer read each page out loud one at a time. Often you will catch misspellings that are technically correct words in themselves. For whatever reason I frequently type a ‘d’ onto ‘an’ producing ‘and’.
There are various tools and techniques for getting the computer to read to you but the easiest I’ve found is to just save the document as a PDF file. Then open Adobe Reader, edit, preferences, and select ‘reading’ within ‘categories’. This may not be necessary in your case but for whatever reason my computer won’t use the default voice so I have to uncheck the ‘use default voice’ box and then select ‘Microsoft Zira Desktop’.
Once you’ve got a voice that works, simply position yourself at the page on which you are editing, select ‘view’, ‘read out loud’ and ‘Activate read out loud’. That will open up the greyed areas and you can select ‘view’, ‘read out loud’ and ‘Read this page only’. Alternatively you can select ‘Read to end of document’ but I find that the page by page approach works better for me.
Another example of unnecessary words:
Soon they were seated at a table that was big enough to comfortably hold the six of them.
Soon they were at a table big enough to comfortably hold all six.
It’s not necessary to follow every grammar rule but if the rule is consistent with how you’d like a character to sound then a deviation might turn out to be nothing more than a spelling error.
“Uh, well, it don’t matter what they think.”
Some characters would speak like that but this is Raymond speaking and his English is pretty good so that ‘don’t’ was actually a misspelled ‘doesn’t’.
(Raymond doesn’t know it but he is being recruited into a cult.)
He wasn’t particularly comfortable with his surroundings and was half considering retreating down the stairs and heading for home but he had agreed to come and it seemed decidedly churlish to abandon his new friends just because they lived in surroundings that were dingy.
He wasn’t comfortable with his surroundings and was half considering retreating but he had agreed to come and it seemed churlish to abandon his new friends just because they lived in surroundings that were dingy.
The above examples are pretty obvious when you see them but they can slip into your writing if you’re not careful. Pretty much anything can provide useful examples although works by prominent authors will have been professionally edited and won’t likely yield many improvements. Nevertheless there are plenty of locations where authors display their work and some haven’t been as well edited as they might have been. Someone’s mistake can be a positive learning experience for someone else.
Guest post contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published ten books on Smashwords.com.