Good morning! Coffee Time with Kara is a new, weekly feature here on the blog where I–Kara Leigh Miller, Editorial Director for Anaiah press–will share tips, tricks, and secrets about writing, querying, publishing, and everything in between. So, grab your cup of coffee and get comfy…
There’s a common piece of advice that circulates among writers–You can’t edit your own work! As the author, you know the story and the characters better than anyone. You’ve spent months writing, and it can be difficult to see your work clearly. What makes sense to you might be confusing to someone else. So while it’s true, to an extent, that you can’t edit your own work, there are things you can do to ensure your manuscript is in the best possible shape before you send it out to agents and/or publishers. Please bear in mind I’m talking about mechanical things here, not overarching things such as plot, pacing, characterizations, etc. So, without further ado, here are my top 4 ways to self-edit…
- Dialogue Tags — These can often be unnecessary, so if you can cut them or replace them with an action tag, do it! For example:Kara nodded and grabbed her purse. “Yes, I’ll go to the store with you,” she said.
In this sentence, we have the action (Kara nodded and grabbed her purse), followed by the dialogue, and then the dialogue tag. Because we’ve seen Kara nod and grab her purse, we can easily infer that she is the one speaking, so you can cut “she said.” Doing so eliminates a couple of unnecessary words and gives the reader a much stronger, more engaging (active) sentence.
- Telling / Distancing Words — These are words that tell the reader what’s happening and distances them from the action. For example:Kara heard a twig snap behind her, and she gasped.
In this sentence, “heard” is a telling/distancing word. I’m telling the reader what I hear rather than letting them experience it with me. A better way to write this would be:
A twig snapped behind her, and she gasped.
Some of the most common telling/distancing words are:
Search your manuscript for these words and rewrite your sentences to get rid of them.
- Throwaway Words — These are words that you can cut from a sentence and not lose any meaning. For example:So, Kara didn’t really want to go to the store.
In this sentence there are two throwaway words: “so” and “really.” If you rewrite the sentence without those words, it means exactly the same thing–only it’s much more concise:
Kara didn’t want to go to the store.
Some of the most common throwaway words are:
Search your manuscript for these words and get rid of as many of them as you can. An easy way to determine if they are necessary or not is to read the sentence aloud with the word, and then read it aloud again without the word–if the meaning is exactly the same, you can cut the word.
- Telling AND Showing — This can often be a difficult one to catch on your own, but even if you can find and fix some, you’ll be ahead of the game. What I mean here is that you’re telling the reader something, and then showing them the same exact thing. For example:Kara was going to call her mom and ask about the party. She dialed the phone, and when Mom answered, Kara said, “What time does the party start?”
Here, I’m telling you what I’m going to do (Kara was going to call her mom and ask about the party), and then I show you that I do it (She dialed the phone, and when Mom answered, Kara said, “What time does the party start?). A better way to write this would be:
Kara dialed Mom’s number. “Hey, Mom, what time does the party start?”
While this is just a few ways to self-edit, it’s a good place to start; and implementing these tips will tighten your prose and help you stand out a bit more in a crowded landscape.
Be sure to come back next Monday when I’ll be talking about walking the dog while contemplating your navel. In the meantime, if you have any questions or have a topic you want me to address, leave it in the comments.
Keep on writing 🙂