I must remind myself—

they can’t tell that I didn’t write this bit immediately after that one

the six months where I ignored the manuscript are not visible to the naked eye

the bit where I put my head in my hands and muttered “I have no idea what I’m doing” takes place in the single space between the period and the next capital letter.

As soon as I shove that character in, she has always been there

and someone will probably say that she’s the emotional center

and the book couldn’t have been written without her

and nobody will know that I thought of her three thousand words from the end and scrolled up and shoehorned in a couple of paragraphs near the beginning because, for whatever reason, the story needed an elderly nun

she was almost the cook

and for about ten minutes she was the earnest young village priest

and now she has been there since you started reading.

I am sanding down the places where my editor found splinters

kicking up a fine dust of adjectives and dropped phrases

(Wear a breath mask. Work in a well-ventilated area. Have you seen what excess commas can do to your lungs?)

and eventually it will all be polished to a high shine

and hopefully when someone looks into it

they’ll see their own face reflected back

instead of mine.



—Wrong Word
affect/effect, lay/lie, sit/set, who/whom, toward/towards, etc.

—Vague Pronoun Reference
Confusing: Bob annoyed Larry, but that didn’t stop him from asking for a meeting.
Clear: Bob annoyed Larry, but that didn’t stop Larry from asking for a meeting.

—Lack of Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement
Frequently Disparaged: Everyone withdrew their money.
Uncontroversial: Everyone withdrew his or her money.
Uncontroversial: People withdrew their money.

More about they and their as gender-neutral pronouns.

—Missing or Unnecessary Capitalization
Capitalize proper nouns: The names of things, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lowercase common nouns: Descriptions, such as that famous bridge.

More about capitalization.

—Unnecessary Shift in Verb Tense
Wrong: John Wilkes Booth barricaded the door while Lincoln is watching the play.
Right: John Wilkes Booth barricaded the door while Lincoln watched the play.

More about mixing verb tenses and switching verb tense.

—Sentence Fragments
Sentence fragments aren’t always wrong, but don’t use them accidentally.

Fragments: Because she was late. And I held the door.

More about sentence fragments.

—Monotonous Sentence Structure
Monotonous: We were late. I called the office. Bob answered the phone. Bob told Sue. Sue stalled the investors.
Better: I called the office because we were late. Bob answered the phone and told Sue, who stalled the investors.

More about sentence structure.

—Adjective Drift
Confusing: The property has seasonal creeks and trail access.
Clear: The property has trail access and seasonal creeks.

—Unnecessary Adverbs and Prepositions
Bloated: I was very angry that Bob sat down on the wet paint.
Better: I was furious that Bob sat on the wet paint.

More on adverbs and prepositions.

—Parallelism Errors
Not Parallel: Kids like singing, chatting, and check their phones.
Parallel: Kids like singing, chatting, and checking their phones.

More about parallel construction.

—Passive Voice
Passive voice isn’t wrong, but active sentences are often better.

Passive: The bell was rung by zombies.
Active: Zombies rang the bell.

More about active voice and passive voice.

—“There Are” Sentences
You can often improve on sentences that start with There are.

Not great: There are usually 54 cards in a deck.
Better: A deck usually has 54 cards.

More about sentences that start with There are and There is.

Jargon: You can often improve on expletive sentences.
More Accessible: You can often improve on sentences that start with There are.

More about writing with jargon.

—Missing Comma After Introductory Element
Wrong: In the past we bought vinyl records.
Right: In the past, we bought vinyl records.

—Unnecessary Comma
Wrong: Bob likes pandas, and visits the zoo often.
Right: Bob likes pandas and visits the zoo often.

—Comma Splice
Wrong: I ate cake, I played games.
Right: I ate cake, and I played games.
Right: I ate cake and played games.

More about the comma splice.

—Run-On Sentences
Wrong: I ate cake I played games.
Right: I ate cake, and I played games.
Right: I ate cake and played games.

More about run-on sentences.

—Missing Comma in a Compound Sentence
Wrong: All my friends came over for my birthday Tuesday and Bobby visited me the next day.
Right: All my friends came over for my birthday Tuesday, and Bobby visited me the next day.

—Missing Comma with a Nonrestrictive Element
Wrong: Shoes which are worn on your feet come in many styles.
Right: Shoes, which are worn on your feet, come in many styles.

More about commas and nonrestrictive elements.

—Mechanical Problems with Quotations
In the U.S., periods and commas go inside the closing quotation mark. Semicolons, colons, and dashes go outside the closing quotation mark. The position of question marks and exclamation points varies: They stay with their question or exclamation.

Correct: She yelled, “Help!” I won a copy of “Wrecking Ball”! She asked, “Are you hungry?” Did he just ask, “Are we in Hungary?”

More about punctuating quotations.

—Quotation Marks for Emphasis
Wrong: “Free” soda on Saturdays.
Right: Free soda on Saturdays.

—Apostrophe Errors
Nouns take apostrophes to become possessive. Pronouns don’t. It’s means “it is” or “it has.” Its is the possessive form of it. Acronyms, initialisms, and years don’t take apostrophes to become plural (CDs, 1980s).

—Unnecessary or Missing Hyphen
Don’t hyphenate phrasal verbs.

Wrong: Log-in to your account.
Right: Log in to your account.

Do hyphenate compound adjectives. These mean different things: silver jewelry cart and silver-jewelry cart.

More about hyphens.

—Spelling Errors
Remember to run a spellcheck. It’s obvious but easy to forget.

—Search for these words and phrases to do a quick check: there are, it is, its, it’s, your, you’re, their, and they’re.


Random line-by-line writing tips from Kitten

Just some random little things that I am forever looking for and tweaking when I do line-by-line edits of my stuff. Thought it might be helpful for Resbangers.

Repeat words – We all do this. We have words that we fall back on and use over and over and oVeR and OvEr again. I’m not talking about words like “the” or “because,” which can’t be helped. I mean the sort of words that are descriptive or specific enough that they stand out when you use them more than one time in a chapter. You know, like “luminescent” or “rotund,” but can also apply to overused action words like “scoffed” or “leaned.”

Repeat actions – Speaking of actions: exactly how many times did your characters sigh and roll their eyes and snicker in this chapter? Is there some other action they could be doing?

Starting paragraphs with the same word – Look at your paragraphs. Do you tend to start them off with the same word? If possible, avoid using the same word to start two or more paragraphs in a row. It forces you to naturally vary your sentence structure, which leads to…

Varying sentences – When you write every sentence. The exact same way. It all starts to bleed together. And can get very static and boring. Mix it up, add some commas, throw in a conjunction, incorporate dialogue (I mean, do it in a grammatically correct way, don’t just throw in random commas). Sometimes your sentences are going to be the way they are because of stylistic choice or the scene you’re writing, and that’s fine! In general, however, you’re going to want to change it up.

Varying paragraph length – Same reasons as above.

Long blocks of dialogue – This can’t always be helped, but it keeps the story moving along smoothly if your characters are doing something active during an info dump or long chat session. If they’re just sitting around chatting, ESPECIALLY if some heavy plot shit is happening, it makes things stall.

Make the prose match the scene – Are you writing a fast-paced action scene? Long, flowing sentences are probably not the way to go. Want the reader to linger on the page? Linger on your sentences (within reason). Also, word choice is important. Words can be sharp, harsh, sweet, calm, dark, light… pick the ones that match your scene.

Change the font/size and read it again – A lot of times we tend to skim and miss stuff. Changing the way the words appear on the page with a font change can help you catch things you missed on the first pass.


New Video: Punk Edits In Real Life

Reblog if you enjoy it & think we did all your edits justice! :)

There are words that you should never - or almost never - use in writing. Disengaging sense verbs, vague modifiers, passive voice – they need to go. Don’t worry about these words as you’re writing the first draft, but when it’s time for revision, break out the red pen. It’s time to destroy your manuscript.

  • Adverbs: lightly, pleasantly, quietly, dumbly. There’s a better verb.
    • “She walked slowly towards him.” Change to: “She sauntered towards him.”
  • Redundancies: needless to say, screamed loudly, end result
  • Suddenly
  • Vague words: very, really, great, thing
  • Sense verbs: saw, felt, smelled, heard, tasted. Unless someone is telling a story to another character, avoid these words. It’s much more effective and engaging to describe it in more objective terms.
    • “She smelled blood, the stench thick in the air.” Change to: “The stench of blood hung thick in the air.”

You get the idea? Vague is lazy. Many words are weak. Cut it, tighten your writing, and make it better.

One final comment on editing: Let us never forget that in an early draft of Lord of the Rings, Strider was a Hobbit who wore clogs and was named Trotter. Your drafts will go through drastic changes from their original conception, and that’s okay. Have a look at some of these original pages of manuscripts. We often think of classics as untouchable, original, and pure, but look at how all of these changed! Let them be an inspiration to shake it up and better your own pieces.

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens 
Take a look at the entire original manuscript!

Stings - Silvia Plath

A Family Sketch - Mark Twain

Protector of the Small - Tamora Pierce

The Iron Ring - Lloyd Alexander

We’ve been talking about editing this week, so here are some things to keep an eye out for during your read-throughs.

First pass:

  • general impressions about character and plot - Who are they according to the page? Where are they going overall?
  • questions that arise - “Who is Jared?? And why did you even mention them?”
  • glaring spelling or grammar errors - Nitpicking is for your final pass, but when you see “sarmt” go ahead and change it to “smart." 
  • repetitive words, phrases, or techniques - We all have that one word we say four times in as many paragraphs that we don’t realize until we’re reading it. Circle them so you can change up the sentences. (fun fact: my downfall is the word door)
  • plot holes - These can’t stay. Point them out as soon as you recognize them so you can begin thinking about how to fix them.

Second pass:

  • foreshadowing - Have you included some subtle hints for your upcoming twist? Are they too obvious? Too subtle? Not enough? Too many?
  • continuity errors - Your second pass comes after you’ve written and rearranged in the holes you filled in. All this changing, streamlining, and rewriting can cause continuity errors to pop up. Note those now so you can fix those up.
  • style switching - These can happen without you ever realizing, or they may be intentional. Watch for vocabulary or tense changes, sentence structure, and the types of metaphors to be sure they match up with the style of the rest of the book. If you had been writing in long, flowing sentences and you suddenly display short, choppy ones, determine if you’ve done it on purpose. Did you change character POV, are you trying to make a point, or were you simply a bit writing constipated that day?

Third pass:

  • line-by-line - This is the point where you should have found your biggest holes and patched them, weeded through your continuity errors to pluck them, and fixed up your accidental car-consideration from the mind of a horse-restricted character. Now your prose is ready for the intensive treatment. Read your story one sentence at a time, scrutinizing each word and its presence in the story. This is your grammar check as well as the time to tighten your sentences.

Style switching is especially important to pay attention to since it can be a gradual or small change. If you have a POV that’s close to your characters psychically, be sure to keep in mind the opinions about things they voice as part of narration need to be consistent within their arc. If you have a non-religious character who does not have a come-to-religion character arc suddenly having reflections on the world through a religious lens, you’ve probably accidentally switched styles. Keep as true and pure to your characters as your style permits. If you suddenly swap from short, concise sentences into a long overblown twelve-run-on sentence, make sure you have a character-oriented reason for it.

What do you struggle with when editing? Let me know and I’ll try to help!