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Editing Pet Peeves

By Deb Haggerty

As an author and an editor, I read—a lot! And I find I get impatient with certain contrivances authors tend to overdo. I realize part of what we do as writers is our voice, but I also realize part is trying to impress or to ensure our readers get what we’re trying to impart. And while our vision is important, we need to remember the best part of reading is employing our imaginations—visualizing the place and time and characters. We need to give our readers the latitude to imagine their own scenes and be drawn in by our words.

One of my prime irritants is over-description. We used to be taught the Rule of Three—use adjectives in trios. This rule is now archaic as readers would rather read action than flowery words. You may choose to use three words, but two are better, and one good word is the best. And over-description leads to telling rather than showing what is happening in the scene. Which is better? “He had blue eyes with long eyelashes.” Or, “She adored gazing into his sparking blue eyes fringed with long dark lashes she would almost kill to have.”

All my authors know two of my pet peeves are the words “it” and “that.” I dislike these words because in many cases, they indicate a writer who is taking shortcuts rather than finding a good way to express their sentences. Using “it” often makes a reader pause to try to figure out what “it” represents. Use “it” too often and a reader will get confused, irritated, and quit reading. And that brings me to “that.” “That” is an overused word that can often be omitted. (You can often omit the word “that.”) See the difference?

The best advice I can give a writer is to read their words from their reader’s point of view. Did you repeat a phrase or a concept too many times? Readers are smart—you don’t need to make a point over and over. Are you using description for description’s sake—or to enhance the action? Ensure description adds to the story and doesn’t detract from your plot. If in doubt, leave the extra words out! Too much description and readers will skip entire parts of your book or worse, stop reading.

Think of poor Snoopy the writer, “It was a dark and stormy night …” Instead—”The storm loomed over the pitch black night ….” Your goal is to keep the reader wanting the next words, paragraph, page, and chapter.

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Deb Haggerty is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Elk Lake Publishing Inc., a traditional, royalty-paying Christian company that “Publishes the Positive.” She’s a Christ follower, wife, mom, and “Nana.” Deb is the author of These Are the Days of My Life and co-author of Experiencing God in a Broken World.

 

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4 Responses to Editing Pet Peeves

  1. Yes, my Pit Bulls can make me peevish, but I wouldn’t edit them.

    Yes, I have a few Pit peeves,
    but I have given up the fight
    with dear Roscoe, who believes
    I should better throw a stick than write.
    Then there are the Little Girls,
    Pittie sisters to the bone
    who in my office dance and twirl,
    never leaving me alone
    to write my vital, awesome story
    that will bring me fame and pay
    and I’ll bask in the bright glory
    of a five-minute segment on “Today”.
    Oops, there goes my “time’s up” chime;
    c’mon, you guys, it’s Frisbee time!

  2. Dave says:

    Useful.

    “Omit needless words!” – Strunk & White

    Thank you!

  3. Colleen Harrington says:

    How does one find an editor that can edit a story I wrote? I have written a story, somewhat of my journey of faith and a testimony that needs to be told. I have not written anything before I wrote my story. I have journaled off & on throughout my adult life, starting in college. I found it a way for me to talk to God about my feelings & an avenue to grow my spirituality. So, I am reaching out to find a pathway to give my testimony & I need someone to direct me as to the next step that I take. I would greatly appreciate any advice that you can give me. Thank you. Colleen Harrington

  4. I’d like to find an editor to help me with my story. It’s not a fiction. It is a true story…it is a testimony that God needs me to proclaim in my writing.