My author friend Lee Murray (www.leemurray.info) did an initial edit of my Golden City manuscript. Here are the top six edits:
- Repetitions / word echoes. As a writer, you become too familiar with the story to pick up on these things, and I’m sure you’ve all read books where a certain phrase is just used too often. Well, I had already gone through and taken out LOADS of ‘gazed’ and ‘sucked in her breath’, but I still have too many of the following: started, gazed, gasped, nodded, hobbled, glanced, stopped short, wrinkled her brow, cleared throat, shook head, eyes widened, pursed lips
- Dialogue tags vs action statements. This one is so basic, it’s embarrassing I got it wrong so often. You can follow a bit of speech with ‘said x’ or ‘exclaimed y’. But if you’ve already established who is talking, then you can use statements to describe an action, e.g., “He scratched his nose.” “She frowned.” However, the grammar rules are different. For a dialogue tag, you don’t capitalise the tag, even if the dialogue ends in an exclamation or question mark.
- “Who are you?” a man asked. (dialogue tag)
- “Good.” He grunted. (not dialogue tag)
- Filtering. Removing incidences of filtering reduces the distance between the narrator and the reader. It is better to use internal thought to explain something your character saw, heard, felt or thought, rather than saying that they saw, heard or thought something. Common filters are words such as feels, seems, finds, wonders, hears etc. The words ‘noise’, ‘sound’, ‘sight of’, ‘felt’ are also filters. Here’s some examples:
- He glanced up and spotted the entrance to the arena just ahead. <-> The arena was just ahead.
- A clanking sound was followed by a scraping noise. <-> A clanking was followed by scraping.
- He spied Cave men and Guards disappearing into the forest ahead. <-> Cave men and Guards disappeared into the forest ahead.
- She felt cold. <-> She was cold. OR, better yet: She shivered.
- She noticed tiny red lights lining the lintel. <-> Tiny red lights lined the lintel.
- Point of View (POV). I thought I had nailed this, but I still got it wrong a few times. When you’re inside your character’s head, you can only see/hear/feel/know/think what they see/hear/feel/know/think. So if something happens behind them or to their face, or inside someone else’s head, you need to write it from inside your character’s head. Examples:
- Freya’s POV: The hermit sank
gratefullyonto a bench. Because I’m in Freya’s head, she can’t feel the hermit’s gratitude. <-> The hermit groaned as he sank onto a bench.
- Saff’s POV: A smile played around his lips. He can’t see his own lips. <-> He smiled.
- Freya’s POV: Freya looked confused. She can’t see her own face. <-> Freya was confused. OR, you could just have her say: “Huh?”
- Freya’s POV: The hermit sank
- Clichés. It’s better to create your own imagery. Also, the cliché may not fit within your world. For example, my world is medieval, with limited technology. So using fell like a lead balloon doesn’t work, because rubber hasn’t been invented. I was pulled up for using:
- white as a sheet
- sat bolt upright
- disappeared into thin air
- quick as a flash
- as far as the eye could see
- narrowly avoiding
- eyes as big as saucers
- Pedestrian words. This is Lee’s term for very ordinary words. The first of my words she used it on was ‘walked’. I thought, “well, yes, that is pedestrian”! So, words like: stood, sat, got, went, came, etc
It took me about a month to work through the initial edits. Now I’m up to the hard part: the story itself. But I’ll leave that for another post.