As writers, we probably all develop habits that don’t serve us well. The thing is . . . it’s sooo much easier for us to point out other people’s blatant errors than it is for us to see how mistakes blemish our own stellar writing.
We may even have our own little pet peeves. One of my critique partners has it in for prepositions. (A preposition links a noun, pronoun, or phrase to another part of a sentence.) She zeros in on any unnecessary words like: to be, of, on, for, from, at, etc.
As a freelance editor, I see common bad habits formed by writers. Can you tell what doesn’t work in the following examples?
“What time should we leave for the concert?” John asked.
“Five o’clock will be early enough. Did you know that Larry is riding with us?” Mary queried.
“That’s awesome!” he exclaimed.
We don’t need to include words like asked, queried, or exclaimed if punctuation is already doing the job. It’s much better to use an action beat. Have the person do some type of physical movement or display a facial expression.
Tip # 2
“I thought you were going to get the car fixed by Monday,” Kathy said.
“I never said it would be done by then,” Greg denied.
If the dialogue does the job, there is no need to explain. In this case, we don’t need to write that Greg denied saying the car would be fixed by Monday. His words are enough.
“I bet those flowers are from your secret admirer,” Mark winked.
“Mark, they’re an anniversary gift from my husband,” laughed Carrie.
It’s impossible to have verbal words expressed through action. While we can wink before, during, and after speaking . . . we can’t “wink” words. Nor can we “laugh” them. Well, maybe if we tried really hard, but we would look and sound pretty funny. And we might choke in the process. ;-)
Kelsie walked to the department store because she needed to shop for clothes. But she also needed some blush, so she first walked to the makeup counter and purchased some blush. Then instead of taking the escalator, she walked up the stairs to the second floor. After walking around that area, she tried on some clothes and then decided to purchase several pieces of designer clothing.
Phew! Okay, that paragraph is pretty silly, and perhaps a little exaggerated. But you get the idea. I frequently see repeated words in the same sentence, paragraph, and page in manuscripts I edit. The writing starts to feel redundant and doesn’t make for exciting reading. It can be challenging at times to find alternative words, but most of the time, it’s possible. For instance, the following words can be used for walk: stroll, saunter, meander, amble, march, pace, stagger, hike, etc.
Kelsie walked to the department store because she needed to shop for clothes. But she also needed some blush, so she first walked to the makeup counter and purchased some blush. Then instead of taking the escalator, she walked up the stairs to the second floor. After walking around that floor, she tried on some clothes and then decided to purchase several pieces of designer clothing.
Those are my four pet peeves—ah—self-editing tips. What are yours?