Last week in Revising and Editing Part 1, we talked about macro revision. This week in Part 2, we’re talking about micro-edits! More specifically, I created a list of 6 easy edits that all manuscripts and drafts can benefit from.
I give common examples of each type of easy edit, but I suggest making a list of the ones you see most often in your own writing, and checking each item off as you go through the revision process.
Easy Edit 1: Distancing Verbs
Distancing verbs are verbs that keep the reader an extra step away from the action or narrative. Common distancing verbs include thought, felt, seemed, wondered, knew, decided to, and saw. Distancing verbs are also called filter verbs.
When reading through your manuscript, immediately cross out all distancing verbs. You don’t need them.
Bad: The sun seemed to glint off the surface of the lake like it was made of diamonds.
Better: The sun glinted off the surface of the lake like it was made of diamonds.
Bad: Mary decided to beg her husband for forgiveness.
Better: Mary begged her husband for forgiveness.
Easy Edit 2: Emotion words
Using emotion words is a prime example of telling and not showing. Don’t tell me that someone is angry, show me skin pulled white across knuckles and the sound of grinding teeth. Sometimes, we use emotion words because we are not confident in our writing and feel we need them in order to get our point across – or we think our readers aren’t smart enough to understand unless we spell it out for them. This is dangerous – readers are smarter than you think, and will abandon a book if they feel like the author is ‘dumbing down’ to them.
When editing, circle all emotion words in your manuscript. Try taking them out and see if the emotion is still apparent – if not, try to convey it in a way that engages the reader’s senses.
Anger, Angry, sad, depressed, and happy are frequently used emotion words, though there are many more. If you have trouble coming up with ways to describe emotions, The Emotion Thesaurus is a really great resource (I’m in no way being paid to say that.)
Bad: Timmy was excited that his grandma was coming to visit.
Good: Timmy pressed his face against the glass, scrutinizing the empty street. His foot tapped frenetically against the floorboard. When he pulled away from the window, his forehead left behind a small oval of condensation. “When’s Grandma gonna get here?”
Easy Edit 3:“Filler” words
A filler word is any word that you can take out and have the sentence mean basically the same thing. The most used filler words are really, so, quite, very, just, such, and that.
Really bad: She was just such a nice girl.
Bad: She was such a nice girl.
Better: She was a nice girl.
Easy Edit 4: Overused Words and Phrases
When reading through your manuscript, take note of any conspicuous words or phrases (common words like the, a, it, etc., are of course ok, as are your story’s hero words) that are used often, especially in close succession. You might want to ask your beta reader to make a list for you, since it’s difficult to pick up on the tics in your own writing. Once you’ve pinpointed your overused phrases, either find a word with a similar meaning, or see if you can use different wording. You might even be able to omit it entirely.
Tip: In Word, you can use the command ctrl+F to quickly find every occurrence of a particular word or phrase in your manuscript.
Every writer will have their own favored expressions; it’s your job to identify your own (make a list!) and root them out without mercy. Three commonly over-abused tropes that you should completely strike out of your final draft are sighed, shrugged, and any instance of eye-rolling. You can do better.
Easy Edit 5: Weak Words
Weak words include any conjugation of to be (is, are, was, were), ‘have’ used as an auxiliary verb (he had ran, he has run), or any word that can be replaced with another for a stronger, more exact meaning (‘shuffled’ instead of ‘walked’).
Is/are/was/were is the cardinal sin of weak language. At best, it can be eliminated entirely. He was jogging through the neighborhood becomes He jogged through the neighborhood with no loss of meaning. At worst, it’s a signpost for telling rather than showing.
Read every sentence of your manuscript critically. Ask yourself if each word is as strong as it could be, if it could be replaced with another for a better effect. Use a thesaurus if you need to.
Bad: He was tall.
Better: She looked up at him. And up, and up.
Bad: He had given her the most perfect red rose.
Better: He gave her the most perfect red rose.
Easy Edit 6: Character or Place Names That Have Changed
Maybe your novel started out set in New York, but then you decided that was clichéd, so you changed it to Des Moines, Iowa instead. Or maybe you started out not knowing your main character’s name, so you typed “MC” instead until halfway through. Either way, you want to make sure that you’re consistent.
Tip: use the shortcut ctrl+H to bring up the ‘find and replace’ window. This powerful little tool will instantly replace all instances of any one word or phrase with another word or phrase. Only do this if you’re sure that the word you’re replacing doesn’t show up in another context. (For example, if you changed your MC’s name from Mary to Jill, but reassigned the name Mary to another character).
References and Resources