Editing Rant: Duplicates

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Duplicate words and phrases are common in writing. Some of the verbiage redundancies are endemic to the writer’s vocabulary. These are “go-to words”. Words which pop up again and again for a writer. People “grabbing” someone or something by the hand, arm, neck, jacket – instead of clutching the purse, gripping the handle, grasping a hand.

As you write, become aware of your go-to words and record them in a “pre-edit” list. Search online for ways to work around the words. A good google search is “Alternate words for ____” – then look under the images. Lots of pretty pictures and words beyond simple thesaurus words. Don’t knock the thesaurus; it’s an awesome tool for this problem.

Other duplicate words are “echo words”. Once the word comes up, it becomes an “earwig” repeating several times. The word just seems to be awesome for that part of the manuscript. Echo words are harder to find than go-to words. The repetition of the go-to words raises flags in beta readers, as well as living and mechanical editors. Echo words may only show up twice in a manuscript, but those two uses are within three pages in a four-hundred page manuscript.

Finally among the duplicate words are the “overused words”. Words every author uses too much: just, said, felt, look, that, etc. 

Finding the balance between punching, snappy narrative and overprocessing often comes into play with dealing with duplicate words. Reworking an area overfilled with go-to and overused words often produces a better product. How much editing with a thesaurus at your side is too much, removing your voice from the manuscript, is a personal call between you and your editor.

Editing Rant: Redundant

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Redundant” is a word I use a lot while editing. I’m not talking duplicate words or phrases, go-to words, or echo words. I’m talking about repeat of presenting information.

For example, the point-of-view character describes the villain of the story to someone. Two chapters later the POV describes the villain (or love-interest) to someone else using nearly the same phrases.

Recaps are well-and-good, once or twice in a book, especially an epic fantasy tome. So long as the recaps present the information in a slightly different fashion. Change up the words. One way to do this is having the events be described by a different character, and interpreting them from their viewpoint or with additional information. Have the recap pull double duty, showing something new in the characters or situation.

Most of all, TRUST YOUR READERS. They do have working memories.

Editing Rant: NOT TO BE

Acquired from the internet Hive Mind

It’s baaack. The copula spider. (First post on the topic is Copula Spiders.)

The shiny wore off real quick on being a content editor. Two manuscripts and thousands (2% of the documents) from the “to be” family – mostly “was” and “were”.

           “Editors are to leave writers’ voices intact,” claims a would-be author. “My voice is passive.”

           “Your voice doesn’t sell.” I move to the next story in the slush pile.

I’m not the only editor, or writer, running into the problem. “Was” and “were” are easy to use. One of my friends fixing a returned manuscript, complained her editor (not me) marked all the “was’es”.

“Was! Oh bane of my existence! Stop tormenting me … (cries)” she posts on Facebook.

New to content editing, I reached out and I asked her about it, and her editor replied (I guess my friend was still busy killing the “was’es” or crying, likely both as she said she averaged 5 was’es a page in her opus). The other editor wrote: “Basically ‘was’ is either taking the place of or weakening a stronger verb.“

Copula is “a connecting verb, in particular the verb ‘be’ connecting the subject and a complement”. The “to be” family includes: am, are, is, was, were, been, has been, have been, had been.

A copula spider happens when you circle all the was’es on a page and connect them. If eight or more legs result, you have a spider.

Was / were / is – the most evils of evils making writing weak. The Copula Spiders must be burned. Kill the spider. Have no more than five “was” ”were” ”is” on a page (one if an action sequence). Six would be a copula insect – and even those are unworthy of your efforts. Remove any of them running through your manuscript. Kill the spiders – burn the house and rewrite the section if you must.

READING EXERCISE: Find your favorite writer, action-based is best but any will do, see how many pages you go before you count ten copula usages.

WRITING EXERCISE: Take an action scene out of your present work-in-progress (WIP). Remove as many was-were-is from the scene as you can. Compare the original scene and the resulting scene for pace and verbiage impact.