This post was first published here on September 12, 2008.
1. Mark repetitive words and phrases for rewrites or substitutions. As is a particularly overused phrase beginning.
2. Mark all lazy verbs such as were, was, had, and substitute active verbs or restructure sentence. In most cases take out just, now, very, only. There is no now in the past tense except within the dialogue or thoughts of the character. An editor once told me that tiny is the most overused word in manuscripts.
3. Once those basic mistakes are corrected, read aloud and listen for:
A. Hard to read passages that make you stumble. Fix them.
B. If you stop to breathe in the middle of a sentence, it’s probably too long.
C. Unpleasant cadence, too many sentences with the same rhythm, too many long or too many short sentences within a scene. As a general rule, short sentences are used for fast paced action, longer are to calm down a scene.
D. Sibilance (repetition of S or SH sounds) or iteration (repetition of same sounds) should be avoided unless you are doing it to create a particular effect.
E. Too many verbs ending in ing. Change to ed endings by restructuring.
F. Noun-verb repetition. Jake saw, Jake sat, Jake ran, or he saw, etc.
4. Substitute words (especially verbs and nouns) that will set a mood, convey the five senses or visualize a scene.
5. Watch your viewpoint. You are not God, nor are you a camera.
6. Balance dialogue and narrative.
7. Say what you mean. Incorrect placing of prepositional phrases can totally change the meaning of a sentence.
8. Be true to the voice and tone of your book in both narrative and dialogue.
When the time comes, print out the work and go someplace else to read the entire story from paper, not the computer screen. Do not sit in the same place in which you created the work. Edit with a red pen, it stands out much better. After those corrections have been made, one more read is in order before sending it off to an editor, agent or contest.
By Velda Brotherton