What do editors do when they get bored? (Okay, that's a trick question. Editors don't have time to get bored). However, in their spare time, the editors at Inspiration for Writers, Inc., made a list of the top "writing wrongs" they encounter. As the list grew, so did the suggestions for what to do with such a list. The result? A 3.75" x 8.25" glossy card you can keep by your computer to remind you to right your writing wrongs before sending out your manuscript.
The best news? We'll send a free card to the first ten people who email Sandy at IFWeditors@gmail.com. Be sure to send your full mailing address and state what you want (a free Writing Wrongs card). If you belong to a writing group and would like enough for your group, email Sandy with the number of people in your group.
Now, in case you can't wait for your full-color card, here's what they say:
Think your manuscript is ready to send out into the world? Before you do, polish your prose by eliminating or reducing:
~ Spelling and grammar errors. Proof once more.
~ Telling. Take the time to act out scenes with appropriate action, dialogue, and description.
~ Was, were, is, are. Each time you locate one of these “to-be” verbs, find a way to omit it. They are often a clue of passive sentence construction. Bad: There were three boys in the room. Better: Three boys wrestled in the gym. Note that fixing passive construction forces us to use more powerful verbs and urges us to be more specific.
~ Present participles (the fancy name for “ing” verbs). Replace with past tense wherever possible. Bad: It was raining. Better: Rain pelted the windows.
~ Helping verbs. Bad: She began to sing. Better: She sang. Bad: She could hear a train. A little better: She heard a train. Much better: A train whistled in the distance.
~ Adverbs. “Ly” words are a sign that a stronger verb is needed. Bad: She was exceedingly tired. Better: She was exhausted. Better: Exhaustion weighed her shoulders, ached her limbs.
~ Creative dialogue tags. Bad: “I love it,” she jittered. Better: “I love it,” she said.
~ Dialogue tags. Replace with an action or body language. Better: “I love it!” She hopped on one foot and danced around John.
~ Dialogue explanations. Don’t tell your reader what your dialogue shows. Bad: John told her off. “Don’t you ever do that again!” Better: John’s eye twitched. “Don’t ever do that again!”
~ Intensifiers. Very, really, totally, completely.
~ Any nonessential word. If a sentence reads just as well without a word, leave it out. Common criminals: that, of, prepositions at the end of a sentence, and suddenly used to create urgency (when action should be creating that urgency).
~ Clichés. If you’ve heard it before, so has your reader. Find a fresh way to say it.
~ Stacked adjectives. If you must use an adjective, pick the strongest one. Bad: The large, gray, angry fox attacked the rabbit. Better: The large fox attacked the rabbit.
~ Exclamation marks. Use only when shouting.
~ Ellipses ( . . . ). Use only when text is missing or, occasionally, as a device to show a falling off in tone during dialogue.
~ Redundancy. Say it once; say it right. Readers are smart. Really.
~ Viewpoint breaches. Know whose head you’re in and stay in it. Or stay out of all heads.
~ Smiling, nodding, laughing, sighing. Nothing wrong with these, but overuse will remove the sizzle from your finely-crafted words. If you use any of these more than once per scene, try to find more creative actions or fresher body language.
~ Gawking characters. Get your character out of the way of the action. Bad: John saw the sun rise. Better: The sun tiptoed into the horizon. Bad: Jill watched the squirrel shell nuts. Better: The squirrel shelled nuts.
~ Named emotions. If an emotion is named, it means you’re telling, not showing. Bad: She was angry. Better: She slammed her fist on the keyboard.
Be sure to request your card while supplies last. And remember, when you need a second set of eyes to review your writing, we're here.
(c) copyright 2011, Inspiration for Writers, Inc. All rights reserved.