Saturday, February 19, 2011


In this session we will complete the two-part tutorial on the all important aspect of writing, that being able to do a quality job of self-editing before submitting your manuscript.

1. Get rid of weak, qualifying words and phrases.
You’ve already searched and destroyed the majority of those dreaded adverbs ending in “ly,” especially those dangling at the end of a sentence or dialog tag, but other words can also weaken your prose. They don’t appear as adverbs or adjectives, but they function the same. Seek out and eliminate these words:
Almost, less, seldom, even, always, maybe, soon, more, perhaps, then, very, many, far, never, today, well, sometimes, just, perhaps
Next, search for and rewrite or eliminate worn-out “turning phrases” like these:
Of course, nevertheless, for example, in fact, however, seemingly, in spite of, besides which
These short lists contain the most overused and abused. Others exist, but this is a good start.

2. Eliminate all clichés.
Clichés are boring, plagiarized bits of wisdom expressed in a set formula. You are a writer. Show us your creativity, amaze us! When you write your first draft and a cliché seems to fit and no better phrase comes to mind, go ahead and key it in. But when you go back to self-edit, use clichés as opportunities to shine. Rewrite with originality and in keeping with your style and your story. Where you might have written the cliché, “My whole world was turned upside down,” you might rewrite, and for this example let’s say you are writing a sci-fi, “My entire universe got sucked into a black hole.”

And now, for part two of our lesson today, I have three words for you.
Cut the fat.

Typically, a well done self-edit should reduce your manuscript’s total word count by at least 10 percent. Cut the fat and get to the meat of the story. Here’s an example:
Mary decided that enough was enough and that John had abused her just one too many times. She decided then and there that she must stand up for herself. She quickly snatched the rolling pin that she had on the counter and slammed him very hard, right squarely in the forehead with it.
The above example is loaded with unnecessary words that slow the action. Look at all the needless uses of “that;” and several other words can be cut without losing any story. Look at this rewrite:

Mary decided, enough. John had abused her too many times. She must stand up for herself. She snatched the rolling pin on the counter and slammed him in the forehead.
See how much more direct impact that has? Here’s one more:

John staggered backward, all the way back into the wall, holding the wound that Mary had just delivered, his hands on his forehead, coated with the blood that was spilling down quickly.
Lots of excess here. You’re probably chuckling at my blatancy. Here’s how I would rewrite this overly plump passage:

John grabbed his forehead and staggered back into the wall with blood spilling down his hands.
One more final recommendation and then we’ll be done for the day. You should have a trusted “Designated Honest Reader” (DHR). Have someone read your manuscript who is well-read and who knows good literature from bad. Someone who loves you and cares enough about your writing career to tell you straight-up what they like and/or do not like about your story, even if some of the feedback hurts. Preferably this person is close enough that you can be in the same house and observe them when they read your book. When the DHR puts it down and goes to fix a cup of coffee or do something else, walk over to the manuscript and see – which scene was so easy to put down?

In closing I’m adding to your recommended reading the following books: On Writing, by Stephen King, and my all-time favourite “how-to” handbook for self-editing, The Frugal Editor, by Carolyn Howard Johnson.

Marvin D Wilson, multi-published author and editor with All Things That Matter Press, using the pen name “Professor Old Silly,” posts writing tutorials on his blog each Tuesday. The above tutorial is a re-post from the archives of his blog at:

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Marvin. I know you did a great job editing my book, "They Plotted Revenge Against America". You challenged me to be more direct and use shorter sentences.
    KISS - keep it simple, stupid. Or, Keep it super simple helps, especially if one wants to reach a world audience. The English language is not easy. Why make it more difficult for the reader?