Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Have you ever known someone who has an annoying habit? Every time they do what they do, it drives you up the wall?

Sometimes authors develop annoying habits, and those habits can destroy a writer’s relationship with a reader. Authors will say it has everything to do with style, but as discussed many times, style stops being effective when it is overdone, and when style is overdone, the cause is usually that the author has picked up an annoying habit. I’ve listed a few of these practices that self-editing will help to eliminate:

Starting a sentence with a conjunction is sometimes a way to bring emphasis to the second portion of an independent clause. The comma and conjunction doesn’t hold enough of a pause. But letting that conjunction stand out does the trick. That is, unless the author starts every other sentence with a conjunction. Then it becomes a bad habit that weakens emphasis elsewhere in the novel.

While we’re discussing conjunctions, another annoying practice is to continually place an incorrect comma after the conjunction. Sometimes, the rules of punctuation call for it, especially if there is a non-restrictive or parenthetical clause or maybe an interjection following the conjunction. However, 99.9% of the time, the comma has become a habit of incorrect punctuation. The conjunctions so and yet are the exception. Sometimes, the author needs to have that pause a comma brings. So, the key is? Let your ear place that comma where it is needed.

Redundancies are a plague of writers who are unsure if they’re getting the message across. He fears the reader isn’t going to get his message. The easiest route for an author to take is to repeat himself, and when an author takes that easy route, the reader believes she’s being talked down to. The truth is, the author should make sure that he’s painted a clear enough picture and move forward.

Exclamation points! I actually get headaches when characters scream and yell at each other in every other sentence, but some authors mistakenly believe the exclamation point is used to add emphasis to what is being said or, heavens to Betsy, what is being thought. The truth about exclamation points is that they’re to denote loud speech. When a character is yelling at another character or cheering another character, by all means, use the exclamation point. Examine real-life speech. Do people screech at each other often? Not really. It’s a good way to get smacked or worse. For that reason, one or two exclamation points in a novel may be one or two exclamation points too many. Tone it down.

Em dashes and ellipses marks are another form of punctuation that authors discover and then pick up the annoying habit of using. Finding a manuscript without a page peppered with either one or both of these marks is becoming increasingly hard to find. Often the author doesn’t use the mark correctly. For example, the ellipses point or mark truly doesn’t hold the function of showing a pause in speech. Authors have adapted it because it is easier for them to take a shortcut rather than to add an action that denotes the pause.

Sometimes, the dialogue on a page has every speech ending with an em dash to note that the character has been cut off mid-sentence. I don’t know about others, but if I’m involved in that type of conversation, I’ve left the room by the time I’m interrupted more than twice. Readers might make it through one such conversation in a novel, but they probably won’t turn the page after the second one begins. Why? Rudeness isn’t tolerated for very long in fiction or in real life.

When self-editing, it is important to look for these stylized areas to determine if the habit we’ve taken up is annoying enough to prevent the reader from enjoying the story.

Remember: style is about effective usage, not over usage.

Happy editing.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like saying "Amen," but should probably say, "Oh, me" instead. Another informative post...very well said! (Sorry, couldn't resist the ellipsis and exclamation point. lol) And now I'm off to erase them from my WIP.