Trick from the Editor’s Hat: A List of Crutch Words

You spend hours, days, even weeks editing. You're struggling to get through it — but don't give up. Writing a story is easy; shaping it into something worth reading is where the true talent of the writer lies.

Here is just one of the many tricks that I employ when editing both my own and clients' writing.

CREATE A SPREADSHEET OF CRUTCH WORDS

While writing, we often have a list of words that we'll fall back on when we can't think of another word to write. Sometimes, we don't even realise that we're doing it. It's not until our critique partners, beta readers, or editors point it out to us that we see the repetitive word glaring at us.

"How could I have missed that? It's as obvious as the nose on my face."

Well, it's quite easy to miss things when you don't know that they're a problem. However, the solution is surprisingly simple.

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Trick from the Editor’s Hat: Apps that Read Aloud

You spend hours/days/weeks editing and you’re struggling to get through it. Here is just one of the many tricks one could when editing.

Use an app to read your story to you

Many will happily agree that hearing a passage will trigger different editing skills than reading a passage. When we read a passage, our brains often fill in the missing words or correct the awkward sentence so it reads as we think it should, but it’s not what it says. As mentioned in a previous post, reading a passage aloud allows you to register unnatural dialogue, awkward phrases and many other things that could have been missed.

Let’s face reality: not everyone is comfortable with reading things aloud to themselves, but there is a solution. There are apps out there that will read a story to you.

If you are on a Mac system, the app for this is already built-in. Programs like Scrivener have incorporated the Mac text-to-speech features into its operations. Some of the voices are extremely unemotional and computerized, but a few of them aren’t. It might take some trial-and-error to find the voice that works for you, but at least the option is there.

Windows now have these systems built-in too, however, they don’t seem to be as developed as the Mac versions. Saying that, there’s nothing stopping you from downloading an app or using an on-line one.

You could convert your manuscript to a format suitable for an eBook reader and use the text-to-speech functions on that. My Kindle provides me with a male and female voice options. (Both of them make me laugh when they attempt to read some of the unconventional character names.)

There are also text-to-speech apps available for Andoid and iOS.

If you can force yourself past the laughing fit that will likely ensue when that computerized Stephen Hawking voice starts reading your erotic sex scene, this could provide another way to pick up those editing blunders that you might have missed otherwise.

(Now I think I’ll go hunt out those hot and steamy scenes to throw through a text-to-speech program. I could use a good laugh.)

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: Use Paper or an Ebook Reader

You spend hours/days/weeks editing and you’re struggling to get through it. Here is just one of the many tricks that I employ when editing both my own and clients’ writing.

Use Paper or an eBook Reader

I never do all my editing directly on the computer. The back-lit screen is too much on my eyes. The smooth reflective surface will catch the overhead lighting, adding to the eye strain. This is why I don’t use a tablet for editing either. They too are back-lit and reflective. No, when I can, when the size of a document permits me, I will print out the manuscript and pull out my trusty red pen, writing all over that printed document. In those instances where the manuscript is too large, say 100k words, then out comes my Kindle and I’ll read the document on that, adding comments and notes to the file as I go. (Yes, you can do that on a Kindle.)

Here’s the deal. When editing on good old-fashioned paper, our tactile sensations kick in and we see things differently. Don’t ask my why, I’m not a psychologist. All I know is that’s the way our minds work. Not only that, the illumination of a computer screen does add to eye strain; this is not good when you need to spend hours reading and editing.

eInk technology, the technology employed in the screens of traditional eBook readers, such as Kindle and Kobo, was developed with eye strain in mind, reducing glare and lighting, emulating the paper effect on eyes as closely as possible. While reading from an eBook, you won’t engage the tactile sensations as you would with editing on paper, but you can still read/edit for longer hours then if you did all your editing on the computer.

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Trick from the Editor's Hat

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: The “Was” Edit

When editing a manuscript, one should always be looking at ways to tighten the writing and language used. There are many tricks that one can employ. Here is one that I often pull out of my hat when editing.

The “Was” Edit

This editing technique is incredibly simple: search for every instance of is/are/was/were and ask yourself if can you reword that sentence to removed that instance of was-type words.

Considering the following:
Gary was working on the wagon.
Simple:
Gary worked on the wagon.
However, it’ll gladly admit that this edit is boring and not very inspirational.

But what about something not so obvious:
He was taller than me.
To remove the was, one needs to actually add a bit of detail, turning this tell statement into show.
He stood two inches taller than me.
The only down side with above line is that it adds words. If you write word-heavy, this could be a problem.

There will be instances where the words is/are/was/were will be necessary, so one should never do a generic delete, but it’s been my experience that in seven out of ten cases, the sentence can be restructure to not only get rid of the dreaded was, but to also give the sentence that something more.

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.


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Trick from the Editor's Hat

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: Read Aloud

You’re staring at a manuscript that you have spent countless hours, days, weeks, preparing for publication or submission. It’s as stellar as you can make it. Or is it?

Here is just one of the tricks that I occasionally pull out of my hat when editing. This technique is the best method of making dialogue sound natural and will pick up the awkward sentences faster than any other method. There are times when I use this technique while writing too. It is one of the best tricks one can have stashed under their hat.

Read Aloud

You can read a line over and over again, but you still don’t see the mistake. It’s something incredibly simple, like a missing “the”, but you still don’t see it. Our eyes filter what our minds see. The eyes make the corrections needed and hence our brains don’t register anything different. However, when we read something out, vocalize the line, our brains work differently. And guess what… That missing “the” becomes obvious.

Reading aloud is one of the best methods that any writer/editor could have stashed under their hat. So many things can be picked up when one hears it compared to reading it.

If you are editing dialogue, it is highly recommended to read the passage aloud. Put on an accent, pretend you’re the character. Feel free to add in the body actions too. You will be amazed with the number of writers that on first drafts spell out words in full, but when they speak the line, here comes the contraction. Or you’ll hear how an accented voice can be written, changing the order of the words.

In a long section of narrative prose, you’ll hear if a sentence is necessary or whether it can be rephrased to give it more impact. And don’t forget that you’ll hear all the awkward phrasings too.

Some people feel self-conscious by reading out their stories, even when they’re in the room alone. Read to your cat or dog. Read to the parrot, however, be careful if that bird is likely to mimic your awkward sentence. No doubt they’ll pick up on the one phrase that you didn’t want shared with your family and friends.

Of all my editing tricks, I would say this one is the one I use the most, on client’s work and my own. My brain processes audio so much better.

See other Tips and Tricks from the Editor.


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Trick from the Editor's Hat

Trick from the Editor’s Hat: The Backwards Edit

You’re staring at a manuscript that you have spent countless hours, days, weeks, preparing for publication or submission. It’s as stellar as you can make it. Or is it?

Here is just one of the tricks that I occasionally pull out of my hat when editing. It can be slow going, but it can help you isolate those awkward, sticky sentences and eliminate those beasts.

The Backwards Edit

During a backwards edit, you read a manuscript from the last sentence backwards to the first. When you do this, you’re unable to focus on the story; sentences lose their contextual meaning. As a consequence you focus entirely on the words.

Is that word really needed? Can that sentence be restructured to say the same thing, but in a tighter way? Is that sentence active or passive? Is that sentence even needed?

A backwards edit can be incredibly slow going, and is not something that I utilise very often. One has to be disciplined to the extreme to persevere with a backwards edit through a 100,000 word manuscript. It’s far to tempting to read forward. There will be sentences that make no sense, whatsoever, without the forward contextual information, but that’s the point. You’re editing without context.

The biggest failing with editing a manuscript in the forward fashion (from the first sentence to the last) is that the beginning of a story becomes so well edited that the editor/writer gets sucked in and fails to see the flaws in the later half of the manuscript. And sometimes, the story itself can be so gripping that one can forget that they were meant to be editing. By removing the context, reading backwards, you remove that threat.

However, backwards editing has one major downfall: you’re editing without context. Sometimes, that sentence or word is necessary for the context to happen. You remove the word/sentence and suddenly the whole scene falls apart. This is why backwards editing takes so long. Not only are you scanning back up through a passage, searching for where the sentence starts, but you’re also taking a brief moment to read the passage forward a sentence or two, to ensure that your edits still makes sense.

Backwards edits are NOT for everyone. Those working on early drafts should always edit in the forward. Early drafts often have developmental issues that need contextual reading to isolate and fix. No, use backwards editing with final drafts only, ensuring that a manuscript is ready for publication or submission.

And if you’re one of those writers that needs context for everything, the odds are you’ll quickly get frustrated with backwards editing and will give up only part way through. Reserve backwards editing for those passages that you feel need that something special, only a page or two. You’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.

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Editing: The Who, What and When

When I tell people that I’m a freelance editor, it’s quite common for people to assume that I spend day in and day out just looking at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I don’t get this reaction from just the general public either. Many writers, especially new writers, also make this assumption. However, editing is so much more.

Editing falls into four main categories: critique, developmental, line and copy-edit. Each stage is necessary to the development of a manuscript. While the initial drafting of a story is a solitary practice, it’s vital for every writer to seek out those extra sets of eyes to provide objective input. The who and the when will depend entirely on what stage your manuscript is at. The stages of editing (depicted in the figure below) are the same for both traditional and self-publication, it’s just the players that may change.

The stages of editing

The stages of editing

Early Writing and Critiquing Partnerships

When writing and editing those early drafts, a critiquing partner can be invaluable, pointing out glaring plot holes that you may have missed. They can be other writers, or a technical adviser who is an expert in a given field. You can find the writing-type critique partner through writing groups, Facebook, or even writing contests. Many critiquing sites have noticeboards filled with people looking for critiquing partners, including Scribophile and Critique Circle. On Twitter, #CPMatch could be the way you find your perfect partner.

The types of critique that one obtains vary greatly, ranging from a full assessment of language and plot, through to characters, and general likes and dislikes. It depends entirely on the level and skill of the critiquer. Critiques are often on partial drafts, and can be at any stage of the writing. You can hire a professional editor to provide a critique, often at a discounted rate, or have a fellow writer provide feedback. You might even send your manuscript to a technical adviser on a given topic, to ensure that your manuscript is accurate and the plot ideas that you had are actually feasible. (Was the poison in my story deadly enough? Can the plane that I used really make that maneuver? Is that really how someone would have wielded a sword?)

Building a good critiquing relationship with other writers can do wonders for your own writing. Not only will you get feedback from objective eyes, but you can see how others go about the editing process. Even those with little-to-no experience in providing critiques can still provide valuable insight into what is not working in a given passage.

The Developmental and Line Edits

Developmental editing provides an in-depth review of the plot, characters, pace, structure and narrative voice. It is typically a big picture view, but does examine the nuances associated with individual chapters and the nitty-gritty of subplots. The story flow from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, generally is fully assessed. Occasionally, a developmental edit will include some line-edits.

Line editing examines a manuscript at a sentence and paragraph level, taking closer look language, structure and clarity. Manuscripts are often returned with in-line edits, comments and possible changes marked throughout. Often the line-edits from the first few chapters can be filtered through into the rest of a manuscript.

Both of these edits occur in the middle stages of a manuscript’s development, and it’s these services for a professional editor that tend to be the most expensive. It takes time to dissect prose, ensuring that everything that is meant to be there is actually there. (Is that really the right word? Is that description enough or is it over the top? Does this character make me want to fall in love, or run an iron over them because they’re so flat with the odd wrinkle?) Do keep in mind that a professional editor that advertises only copy-editing services is not a developmental or line editor.

Beta Readers

When you have edited your manuscript to death, and worked out all the plot and language kinks, new eyes become vital. That is the stage when you put your feelers out in every direction and ask if anyone is willing to read your manuscript and provide you with feedback. Beta readers can be other writers, avid readers, or even your family and friends. At this stage of editing, all you want is the reader’s perspective about your story. You want the answer to the question: did they like it and would they buy it if the opportunity presented itself?

For those on the traditional publication road, it is common for the query process to begin while beta readers are still reading your manuscript. Just ensure that you’re not querying with a manuscript that is still raw, requiring significant changes.

Copy-Editing and Proofreading

Copy-editing is the type of editing that checks spelling, grammar and punctuation. The idea is to ensure that the language used is accurate and consistent throughout the manuscript and that the prose flows. This is one of the last stages of editing, so developmental issues are not examine, but that shouldn’t matter—by the time you get to a copy-edit, there shouldn’t be any developmental issues.

Proofreading is the very last stage of editing before that book goes to the printer. The proofreader goes through the entire manuscript, picking up any mistakes that the copy-editor missed and checking for any errors in the typesetting. The proofreader is hired by the publisher (whether that is a publishing house or yourself) and is the last chance to catch anything before your story goes public.

For those on the traditional publishing road, the copy-editor will most likely be contracted by the publishing house. Regardless, the proofreader definitely is.

Do all writers need to hire an editor?

There is only one type of writer that doesn’t require any form of editing: the one who writes solely for personal pleasure with no intention to ever publish anything. Everyone else will need another set of eyes at some stage during a manuscript’s development, however, it need not be a professional editor. As mentioned above, critiquing partners and beta readers can be a valuable resource.

If you do hire a professional editor, be advised that not all editors are the same. Some will only offer developmental edits and critiques, while others will only offer copy-edit and proofreading services. Some offer a combination of both. When contracting an editor, do make sure that you look at the services they offer closely. Also look at the types of stories that an editor is willing to look at. Let’s face it, not everyone wants to read about guts being ripped out of the body, just like not everyone wants to read about how Harry met Sally.

Regardless, just remember that editing takes time and is one thing that you should never rush.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Coin purse

But a publisher will have their editor work on my manuscript… Right?

Many writers eventually ask themselves that big question: do I really need an editor? Freelance editors, especially the good ones, are not cheap. I know this because I’m a freelance editor myself, and even my own fees can be considered to be on the scary side. But the question is not whether or not an editor is needed, but rather is the money worth it?

One-word answer: yes. Now of course I’m going to say that. I’m an editor myself, but let me shift this into my own experience as a writer.

I started writing my epic fantasy opus back in 2008. It was a way to quiet my mind so I could actually sleep after spending all day with technical material. In December 2013, I decided to devote myself full-time to writing. For a solid year, I did nothing but edit and rewrite my first novel. But there came a point when I needed someone else to look at it and give me feedback.

As writers, we are too close to our stories that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Everything is playing out in our heads exactly as they should, and we sometimes don’t understand why others don’t see the story the way we do. It’s not until someone actually asks the question “Where did Billy come from?” that we realise we forgot to actually introduce Billy.

Critiquing partners will help any writer find these glaring plot holes, but good critiquing partners are extremely difficult to find. I should know… I’ve been trying to find one for over two years with little success. The real issue with critiquing partnerships is time. You and your partner will have different priorities and feedback can be a long time forthcoming. This was the biggest issue I had. In some cases, I found myself waiting for five months for comments, sometimes more. Frustrating was an understatement.

When I made the decision to hire an editor myself for a developmental edit… Well, it was the best decision I could have made. Within a few short weeks, I had feedback on the entire manuscript. I suddenly knew exactly where my story was falling over, and had a plan in place on how to rework my manuscript to make it stronger and more saleable.

This is where an editor is worth the money. They train to see where a passage is not working, and how to modify it to make it work and work well.

Now, I’ve had fellow writers try to convince me that because I’m determined to go down the traditional publishing road, a freelance editor is pointless. “A traditional publisher will have their own editor look at the manuscript.” Well, yes, that’s true, but a traditional publisher is unlikely take on a manuscript that hasn’t already been edited to a reasonable standard — prior to coming across their desk. This means that you need to ensure that most, if not all, of the plot holes have already been filled in, that the grammar and punctuation have been corrected, that the prose says exactly what you mean to say. Submission to an agent/publisher is a polished complete manuscript. This means critiqued. This means edited. This means rewritten and reworked. Again, you need another pair of eyes to look at your manuscript to do this properly. This brings me back to the original reasons why I hired an editor for my own writing projects.

If you’re self-publishing, you will definitely need to hire an editor, and most likely multiple times. Not only will you need a developmental edit, but you will also need a copy-edit and/or a proofread. You don’t want to release something filled with simple errors when they can be corrected prior to the publication date.

A good editor is worth their weight in gold. If you’re serious about publishing, invest the money where it counts.


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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016