I feel like an expert on some of these! The truth is, every writer has stumbling blocks that require hours of editing and practice to get past. I’ve listened to editors and publishers complain about many of these and here is a list of a few that keep our wonderful proofreaders up at night. Hope you enjoy.
1. Commas – Commas are my arch nemeses – my Kryptonite! The best advice I ever got where commas were concerned was: When in doubt, leave it out. Some say I still may need a twelve-step program for my addiction to the little guys, but I swear I can quit anytime I’m ready!
2. Head Hopping – A couple of weeks ago, I read a fabulous book. The characters were well-developed and the plot was interesting. However, in the middle of several scenes, the writer jumped from one character’s head to another’s and back. Not only did it confuse me, but I felt a little dizzy trying to keep up with who was thinking what. The rule of thumb here is – one brain per scene or chapter.
3. Repetitious words – Every editor has their own list of special words that make their head spin or possibly cause them to explode. You can use the “find” command to seek and destroy these words as I’m sure your editor will be happy to give you a list. Also, be on the look out for the use of the same words over and over on a page or in a chapter. Here is a short list of the most hated words: that, nearly, then, really, about, like, just, actually, very…
4. Passive Voice – This is one that can only be corrected during the editing process and requires a keen eye to search it out. Example: The dishes were washed by Kim. – No Kim washed the dishes. – Better. The subject should perform the action. In the first example, it sounds as though the action is being done to the subject.
5. Autonomous Body Parts – I’m as guilty as anyone of this one! Example: Her eyes rolled over him. – literally? Where was she when her eyes were rolling over him? Example: His feet leapt across the dance floor. Without him?
6. Names with dialogue – How many times do you really say a person’s name in natural conversation? When editing be on the look out for this no-no. “John, where is the cat?”. Reading your dialogue aloud will help here.
7. Ellipses and Exclamation Point – My personal favorite are a couple of punctuation marks; the ellipses and exclamation point. Most editors can’t stand to see exclamation points sprinkled throughout a manuscript. If you don’t delete them, they probably will. I have had a long-term love affair with ellipses in dialogue. I usually spend hours editing them out after my story is complete. Both of these can distract the reader’s attention and interrupt the flow of the book.
9. Dialogue Tags – We’ve all heard how editors hate dialogue tags. The problem with them is that after several pages of tags, it will appear that all your characters do is smile, grimace, and laugh. Take the time to describe and move the story along when you write dialogue.
10. “LY” – Kill any and all adverbs. You will, without a doubt, have a few adverbs in your completed manuscript, but if they are not necessary delete them. If you don’t take them out your editor will, all while cussing you under their breath.
Hope this information helps you during the editing process!
Monique O’Connor James