Char Chaffin is an editor at Soul Mate Publishing. This is a list she sends her authors: I removed the few things that applied only to romance authors. (Surely none of you wrote a sentence where someone captures someone else's lips.) I hope you find them as helpful as I did. Happy writing.
Items to look for:
Before you send your manuscript on for editing, check the following:
1. Correctly formatted ellipses. Use the three-dot ellipse only, each dot separated by a space, and then a space between words.
Example: I need . . . I want.
If the ellipse is used at the end of dialogue, it looks like this:
“But I . . .”
2. EM dashes: they’re easy to do incorrectly. When you use a dash in your text, it’s a double dash that has no spaces either before your word or after it. When you type in the next word, you create the EM dash.
Example: This is correct: She cried—sobbed—screamed.
This is incorrect: She cried – sobbed – screamed.
3. Repeat words: check how many times you use the following words: (Note from Susan: when using MS word's find feature, put a space before and after the word you're are hunting for. i.e. space as space That will remove any erroneous results.)
These words are usually way overused and you can clean out a lot of them. Especially the directional words up, down, over, under. If you have a character preparing to sit, you don’t have to say ‘sat down.’ Nor do you need ‘stood up.’ The directional is always a given.
Also avoid: ‘off of.’ It’s either one or the other but never both. Use ‘toward,’ not ‘towards.’ Also, it’s ‘backward,’ not ‘backwards.’ ‘Afterward,’ not ‘afterwards.’ Same with ‘upward,’ downward’ and ‘anyway.’ No ‘s’ on the end of any of them.
Avoid ‘basically,’ ‘literally.’ They’re irritating and unnecessary.
Avoid placing text in caps. If you want to emphasize something, italicize it. When you use caps, readers think you’re shouting at them.
Go easy on the !!!!!!!! More than five in an entire manuscript is more than enough.
4. Don’t rhyme. If you have rhyming words in the same sentence, get rid of one of them.
For example: She had a ball at the St. Louis Mall. Not acceptable. (Naturally this doesn't apply if you are writing a rhyming PB)
5. Go easy on dialog tags. Most of the time you don’t need them at all.
Example: “I’ll get you a drink,” Donna said, walking across the room and opening the fridge. That’s a dialog tag you don’t need. Instead, do this: Donna walked across the room toward the fridge. “I’ll get you a drink.” If you have two or more characters of the same gender in a scene, depending on how you word your dialogue, you may need to use tags to indicate who is speaking or showing action.
Most Important: Keep your action active! This might sound redundant but there are verbs that drag you down. Biggest drag: anytime you put the word “was” in front of a verb that ends in “ing” you immediately slow down the action. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but most of the time, do your best to stay away.
Example: John was thinking about it. Better to say this: John thought about it. Unless you absolutely have to keep them in the moment, such as ‘was looking,’ ‘was going,’ etc., keep your action moving forward and avoid the ‘was/ing’ combo.
STAY ACTIVE. It’s not hard to do. Be cognizant of those weaker verbs and avoid them. You can always find a synonym. An example of common weaker verbs: watched, saw, looked, stepped, moved, liked, knew, walked.
Remember: punctuation ALWAYS goes between quote marks, not after, whether single or double. “Away we go!” “Use your head, Clyde.” Single quotes look like this: ‘Saturday Night is live.’ However, if you abbreviate or shorten, the quote goes before: “I’m just sayin’.”
Your readers are smart and most read with a visual eye. You don’t have to describe in detail for them to get the idea. It’s better to say, ‘She rose from the bed and pulled a shirt from the dresser,’ than to say, ‘she sat on the edge of the bed, then stood, and then she walked across the room toward the dresser, where she pulled open the third drawer, pulled out a shirt, and then slipped it over her head.’ I have read that overload of description before, and can guarantee the author would lose me right after ‘sat on the edge of the bed.’
Also, your visual readers will picture what you tell them in more literal terms than you would think. If you say, ‘The plane ride was so bumpy, John’s guts dropped to the floor,’ then I, the reader, will probably visualize poor John’s disembowelment by way of turbulence. J Instead, saying, ‘Turbulence and a bouncy plane ride made for one hellish bout of nausea for John,’ will garner sympathy for John plus a trace of humor because most of your readers can immediately empathize with the hellish bout of nausea. So be careful when you stage action, and always read it aloud as if you’re a reader. If you visualize anything weird or unintentional as you are reading aloud, you might want to rethink your action staging.
Thank you, Char, for giving me this post. Happy editing!