Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Editing Made Easy (Or At Least Easier)—by Elizabeth Spann Craig

Striped_Notepad_4710 (7)After I finish a first draft, I start into my edits right away. And boy, is there usually a lot of editing to do!

Looking at the manuscript as a messy whole is sometimes overwhelming.

To get me started on the right track and help myself feel a little more enthusiastic about the chore in front of me, I usually start out with some easy edits that make a big difference.

The first thing I do is a find {ctrl F} for my favorite words. I’ll find a lot of ‘justs’ and ‘sighs.’ This takes only minutes to do, but makes me feel a little more cheerful.

Not sure what your favorite words are? Some folks use Wordle, which highlights the most common words in a manuscript.

The next thing I look for are weak words and words to investigate…because I might need to make the sentence stronger: That, seem, there, might, something, ‘to be’ verbs (like was ____ing), had, very, so, little, almost. This takes a bit longer, but is still really easy. Terry Odell has a nice post on using Word to eliminate problem words.

I have some new words to look for, too. There was a great post on Write it Sideways last week about filter words. Quoting the post, filter words are “those that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view.”

Those words are (again, quoting directly from the blog):

  • to see
  • to hear
  • to think
  • to touch
  • to wonder
  • to realize
  • to watch
  • to look
  • to seem
  • to feel (or feel like)
  • can
  • to decide
  • to sound (or sound like)

So, to give a quick example, a sentence using the filter word ‘heard’ might look like this:

John heard the siren.

Without the filter word, you could have this:

The siren blared.

Basically, you’re putting the reader in John’s shoes and deeper into the story.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to eliminate all of these words. And there are plenty of situations where you need them—where the wording would be too awkward otherwise.

But it’s a great place to start with editing, I think. It’s nothing if not easy. You can search for the words and just take a quick look at the sentence and see if it can be stronger or worded better.

When I knock out these easy fixes, it just helps me feel more confident about knocking out the rest of the mess. :)

Are there particular words that you look for? What words do you commonly use as fillers?

Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder


Keith Raffel said...

Nice post, E/R. When I'm done, my manuscript always needs a nod-ectomy. My characters just spend too much time moving their heads up and down.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Ha! I've got some head bobbing, too, Keith!

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I have the nod thing going on in my drafts, too. But don't you find that as soon as you perform a word-ectomy a new favorite over-used pops up? It's an ongoing battle.

Lois Winston said...

Someone once gave me a fantastic editing tip when it comes body gestures and movements. Never have your characters do anything that the POV character wouldn't remember 20 minutes later.

Darrell James said...

I tend to use the wrod "now" alot. As in: Now, he moved to the window. Now, the train reversed and began backing up.

I'm in the process of editing now (See what I mean?).

Thanks for the tips, Elizabeth.

Alan Orloff said...

Just, that, then, octopi (ok, not octopi).

I also always seem to have a lot of "maybes"

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sue Ann--It's sort of like the crabgrass fight in my yard!

Lois--Ooh...I like that.

Darrell--Sometimes I think it's easier to write while USING the crutch, then eliminate the problem later!

Alan--I was hoping maybe octopi WAS one of your overused words! Ha!

Darrell James said...

I like octopi, Alan. Can I borrow that? "Now, the train reversed and backed over the octopi."

Alan Orloff said...

Darrell, I definitely can not wait for your book to come out. (Not with prose like that!)

Alice Loweecey said...

My characters tend to have rolling eyes. Oh, and raised eyerows. In my last editing pass I highlighted them all. Ouch. Multi-colored highlighters are my friends. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Great advice! And timely, since I'm in the midst of a giant and daunting revision. Thanks!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I like to let a ms rest for a bit before editing, if time permits. Gives me a fresher perspective.

A cop friend just read my second Chloe Ellefson novel, and observed that my characters "regard" each other a lot. That was a new one for me! Sometimes it takes a second pair of eyes.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Darrell--Any story involving trains and octopi has GOT to be good!

Alice--My characters roll their eyes a lot, too. I blame my teenager's influence. :)

Julia--Can't wait to read your latest!

Kathleen--First readers are great, and so is putting the ms aside for a while. Good point!