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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Death of a Manuscript: How to Edit

After writing for several years, now--eight or nine, I think--and being part of a critique group for four of them, I've learned a lot about editing and what makes strong writing.  It's a difficult thing for us writers to edit ourselves because we want to say what we want, how and when we want to say it, right? Of course right!

Yet, we all know that editing makes our manuscripts stronger and more readable. So, I've come up with a few tips. They aren't really rules as much pet peeves and specific things I see aspiring writers doing again and again.

WARNING: This list may be offensive to those who do the following things in their writing. Reading it may cause cursing and slapping of the forehead with the palm of the hand. If an emergency occurs, go to the kitchen/bathroom and get some aspirin. Watch out for nosebleeds.

ALSO WARNING: The writer reserves the right to expand this list for future blogs.

1) Don't say your POV character observed someone doing something; just say the person did it.
         Example. Abram sat on the couch. He saw Noah cross the room and pick up his coat.
                      Abram sat on the couch. Noah crossed the room and picked up his coat.
Which is stronger?  I hope you said the second one, by FAR! It gets to the point which keeps the reader in the moment and, as a bonus, cuts down on work count.

2) "Seemed." I have a pet peeve about this one. I see many people--and yes, have caught myself doing it as well--saying 'seemed' a lot.
                      The paper seemed to say...the man seemed to be asking...the tree seemed to be 
                      swaying...the writer seemed to be a good one...
I think we say this because we want to instill a sense of uncertainty for a scene or character, which is understandable, but there are better, stronger ways to do this.  Using 'seemed' all the time like this does a disservice to your writing itself. It makes the sentence weak. It makes it sound like you don't know for sure if what you're asking your reader to believe is true. Please don't use 'seemed'! Perhaps one time in a hundred, when some part of your character's reality is different than it seems is this okay to use. Otherwise, the majority of the time, edit it out of your manuscript!  For the love of all that seems real!!!! Okay, I'm better now.

3) "Noticed." This is another one that bugs me. I think writers try to use it as a synonym for 'looked' or 'saw.'  Don't misunderstand me: there's nothing at all wrong with varying word choice, but...you gotta use the synonyms correctly, right?

'Notice' implies something small; something that only you see and others don't. If you say, "She stood in the crowd and noticed the acrobat flying through the air," that doesn't make sense! She's not noticing the acrobat. She's seeing him along with everyone else! Notice is something that you happen to see, where you might have passed over it; it's something you see that others don't, something you aren't supposed to see, but do, or something you see but don't understand which will become important later in the story.

Don't use 'notice' and 'saw' interchangeably! It makes your prose read like three-week-old, watered down soda: weak, flat, not desirable.

I could go on, but three's good for now, as this post is getting long. Perhaps I'll continue the list another time.  That is, if people are interested....? :D

Happy editing, all!


  1. Thanks so much for stopping by, hon - delighted to return the visit and the follow. :)

    Good call on the looked/saw/noticed . . . horrible flaw, even if I'm sure I've done it more than once!

    Sally @ Bending the Bookshelf

    1. No prob! Thanks for following back. And I'm sure we've all done it! I look forward to your posts!

  2. There are so many things like what you've mentioned that are just SO important. Writing is HARD, and this was just a reminder that mine really sucks! Oh well, I'll just keep practicing!
    Now following by GFC!

    1. Thanks for the follow! And I'm sure your writing is marvelous! All of us can continually improve and learn from one another, though! Thanks for visiting! :D

  3. Great list of things to watch out for while writing. Following back.

  4. new follower, if you want to see my FF post its here, but not sure if this is the right spot, i seen the pic, but not the post and question, if i comments in wrong area, sorry My FF Post

    1. Nope, you're good! I didn't do the normal FF post so you're in the right spot! Thanks for stopping by! :D

  5. Great post :)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and following..I am following you back!! Can't wait to read your future posts :)

    1. No problem! Thanks for the return follow! I look forward to your posts as well! :D

  6. Hi Liesel, Is this deja vu? I am following you through GFC as lucyatmax. I invite you to visit and follow my blog at: bethartfromtheheart.blogspot.com .

    1. Great! Thanks! I'll definitely visit your blog as well! :D