I have a list of common writing mistakes. I wonder if you do, too. I thought I would share to see if this might help anyone.
Beware - for newer writers, you'll find we are taking a simple children's story from creation to completion in the editing process. All along I ask you to do the work beside me, if you choose.
Let's get started!!
1.) WRITE YOUR STORY. Here's the really bad, unedited example for our purposes:
It was a hot summer day. It was noon. The school rrom has let out for recess and the children have gone out to play for recess. They love recess the best of all. It's they're favorite time of the whole day. They're next favorite time of the day is naptime!!!!! After that, thay like to ride the bus and to sing the ABC song.
When they are on the play ground, the little, cute kids happily ride the merry-go-round, and playfully swing in the swings. They run and play and play follow-the leader. The leader today is Tommy. He is a sweet little boy who joyfully goes through the tunnel. He is having lots of fun being the leader! Then kids went through the tunnel. Put your heads down! Then he laughingly goes very low under the monkey bars. Then the adorable kids go very low under the monkey bvars .Hey! Watch out for silly, overhead climbing monkeys! I hope no one is being incautious! Then more kids joined in. Then Tommy walks through the swings. Then the kids walk through the swings. The principal joined in! Yea! Tommy heroically climbed up the the slide. He is really high! There is a long line of kids. Then they all slide down! Here comes the Princiapl. Plop! Yea!
What a good Leader Tommy is! (224 words)
Here's where things get tricky. What's 'editing'? What does it include beyond spelling and grammar? Following are the steps I take in my own works to edit, and the primary things I struggle with (in no particular order).
3.) SPELLING AND GRAMMAR.
It's the number one thing that can get your manuscript rejected. An editor can love your concept, yet reject it because he doesn't have the time or resources to edit it FOR you. (I have edited the above story for spags, but I'll not repeat it again so soon.)
4.) TMI - TOO MUCH INFO.
Write your story -- and then chuck 1/4 - 1/3 of it. I know it hurts, but that's the difference in 'writing' and 'being a writer'. [Check out some of the quotations on my page. I don't know how far back they go, but many of them are about learning to make friends with the wastebasket.]
So - what do you chuck? You wrote it, you must like it, right? Here begins the dirty stuff....
5.) JETTISON ALL 'GENERAL' ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS.
I'm serious. It may seem to go against everything you were taught in school, but there are other places to put descriptions; we'll talk about those in a
Example: In the above story:
'It was a hot summer day.'-> 'hot' must go...it's too general
'the little cute kids' -> 'little, cute' must go....too general
Find any other general adjectives or adverbs and remove them.
Example: In the above story:
'It was a summer day. It was noon. The school room has let out for recess and the children have gone out to play for recess. They love recess the best of all. It's their favorite time of the whole day. Their next favorite time of the day is naptime!!!!! After that, they like to ride the bus and to sing the ABC song.'
Repeated items are 'recess', 'favorite', 'day', 'they', and the exclamation marks.
By eliminating the overused items, we can have something like this:
'It was a summer day. It was noon. The children have gone out to play for recess. It is their favorite time of day.'[Since naptime, riding the bus and the ABC song have nothing to do with our story, we are leaving them out.]
Repeat this process throughout the story. See what other areas you think might have issues with redundancy. We'll check back in a minute.
7.) STREAMLINE EVERY SENTENCE. Don't use fifteen words to say what you can say in seven.
Example: In the above story:
'When they are on the playground, the kids happily ride the merry-go-round, and swing in the swings.'
Which can be made stronger by the editing process: (Trust.)
'They swing and happily ride on the merry-go-round.'
Repeat this step throughout your story.
Lose every: 'every', 'much', 'very, 'really, 'so', etc. These are called Qualifiers.
"Here are the most common qualifiers in English (though some of these words have other functions as well): very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of." [from: About.com, Grammar and Composition]
Get rid of ALL of them.
Just to check in - HERE'S OUR STORY at this point:
It was a summer day. It was noon. The children have gone out to play for recess. It is their favorite time of day.
They slide and happily ride on the merry-go-round. They play follow-the leader. The leader today is Tommy. He joyfully goes through the tunnel. He is having lots of fun being the leader! The kids went through the tunnel. Put your heads down! He laughingly goes low under the monkey bars. The kids go low under the monkey bars. Hey! Watch out for overhead climbing monkeys! I hope no one is being incautious! More kids joined in. Tommy walks through the swings. The kids walk through the swings. The principal joined in! Yea! Tommy heroically climbed up the slide. He is high! There is a long line of kids. They all slide down! Here comes the Principal. Plop! Yea!
What a good Leader Tommy is!
What can we get rid of next?
9.) $100 WORDS.
You may think they sound smart, but you could be wrong. Used incorrectly, those big words weaken your writing and disturb your reader. Lose them.
Example: In the story above:
'Watch out for overhead climbing monkeys! I hope no one is being incautious!'
Since this is a story for children, we'll drop the 'incautious' line altogether.
10.) '-ly' WORDS.
These are descriptive words, but weak ones. Eject. (And trust.)
Example: In the story above:
'They slide and happily ride on the merry-go-round.' -> lose 'happily'
'Tommy heroically climbed up the slide.' -> lose 'heroically'
There are better ways to say these things. See if you can find more '-ly' words in the story that need to go.
11.) CHECK YOUR VERB TENSES.
Make sure they agree. If you are writing in the past tense, make sure all your verbs are in agreement. If you are unsure about this, check any writer's manual or online writer's web site. (Holler if you'd like suggestions.)
In the story our verbs are NOT in harmony. Take a look and see if you can put them in the PRESENT tense. We'll check on it in a minute.
12.) USE OF THE WORD: 'IT'.
Sometimes something bugs you. It gets under your skin and starts to grow. It lays eggs. It hatches thousands of little beings and before you know it there are billions of the little critters running around driving you batty. It's baffling how it happens. Do you get it? Perhaps it's just me...but IT drives me crazy.
Let's change topics. When you are writing about your sister, Betty, you may call her 'sis', 'Betty', 'Babs', 'her', or any number of things, but occasionally - and rather frequently - you should also refer to her by her given name so people will know to whom you are referring. Does that make sense?
Now. (deep breath.)The FIRST 'it' topic: There's a person, place or thing I want to speak about. Somehow in the course of writing, I forget that the same rules apply here as in referring to my sister Betty. I must not allow my 'its' to take over. I must either refer to the object by name, remember to occasionally remind my readers of the item or...I should not speak of it in the first place. I must always ask myself if the item is truly important to my story or not, and then treat it accordingly. Readers should ALWAYS be able to look and see immediately what my 'it' refers to.
The SECOND 'it' issue is that I am sometimes tempted to throw 'ungrounded' its around. I must always GROUND my its !! (*smile*) Now let's see if I can explain that...
Example: from the story above.
'It is a summer day. It is noon. The children have come out to play for recess. It is their favorite time of day.'
See if this sounds better:
'On a golden afternoon, children have come to the playground for recess, their favorite time of day.' [No 'ungrounded' its floating around!! Hurray!]
13.) SHOW, DON'T TELL.
First, trust your reader. Trust in their imagination, their brain, and their sense of humor. Describe a few things REALLY well then be willing to 'leave a little to the imagination'. If you do your job correctly, they will fill in the gaps with a clarity you couldn't have dreamed of doing with your writing. And allow them to figure some things out for themselves. It's part of the fun.
Second, show, don't tell. This is the fun part - where you get to ADD a bit.
Example: from story above.
'On a golden afternoon, children have come to the playground for recess, their favorite time of day.'
'On a golden afternoon, a brick red door swings open and thirty-two kindergarteners come onto a school playground for recess, their favorite time of day.'
In a different story, you could say: 'He reached out and grabbed her arm.' But that's TELLING -- a no-no. Instead say, 'Their eyes met. Her sadness felt like an emotional punch. He put his left hand on her sleeve; she wore the coat he had given her that Christmas so long ago, when things were different, bright. It felt coarse under his hands now. He pulled gently, but she wrenched away. He knew she was gone even before she walked away."
See the diff? (Yes, I used a 'was'. UGH! see the next subject!)
14.)ACTIVE VS PASSIVE.
This could be an entire essay unto itself, and I'm pretty sure I should not be the one to write it. I struggle with it myself. Writing in the sense of NOW, and with EXCITEMENT. Getting rid of 'was' in your writing once and for all. Using scampered, clambered and frolicked instead of climbed and jumped.
Example: from the story we're creating:
'Tommy walks through the swings. The kids walk through the swings. '
'Tommy winds his way through the swings. The long train of children wiggles through the swings. '
15.) WHEN YOU THINK YOU'RE FINISHED EDITING, READ IT ALOUD.
How it rolls off your tongue is how it will sound in the reader's head. Bumpy? Disastrous? Then you have more work to do.
16.) FIND SOMEONE YOU TRUST AND ASK FOR A CRITIQUE. Be happy to accept an honest review from someone who is willing to help and understand that SOMETIMES THE TRUTH HURTS.
17.) SEPARATE YOUR FEELINGS FROM YOUR WRITING -
Or you'll have a hard time making it as a writer. [I'm working on another presentation about that. *smile*] Suffice it to say, if you want to improve you have to be willing to WORK, and to LISTEN. Understand there are people out there who are better than you and who know more than you. That's a fact of life.
When you realize that, you can be humble enough to ask for help and get it. What are a few 'fours' on FS, if it means you can let your guard down and let people actually give you true advice and criticism that could help you grow as a writer? Think about it.
18.)DON'T BE AFRAID. If this has scared you at all, shake it off. It's a process like any other -- like riding a bike, it may seem intimidating at first, but it will soon become second nature with practice. You'll learn that many of these steps can be combined.
I hope this helps!
HERE'S OUR STORY:
On a golden afternoon, a brick red door swings open and thirty-two kindergarteners scamper onto a school playground for recess, their favorite time of day.
Like ants, they scoot in different directions. Some swing; some ride a merry-go-round. Some play follow-the-leader. Today's leader is Tommy.
He goes into a tunnel. Children behind him go through a tunnel. Put your heads down!
He crawls beneath the monkey bars. The line of children following him ducks under the monkey bars. Watch out for climbing monkeys! More kids join in.
Tommy winds his way among the swings. A long train of children wiggles between the swings.
The principal joins in!
Tommy clambers up a slide. He towers above the playground. Tommy pounds his chest. Look out for the man on the mountain!
A line of children ascend the ladder. Each child bangs his chest and then slides down. Plop! Plop! Plop! Here comes the principal. He does it too!
What a good leader Tommy is! (165 words -- we reduced by 1/4!)
How did you do?