The Red Pen with Heather Luby

The Red Pen with Heather Luby

Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week, Heather Luby joins us to talk about our favorite editing strategies. As always, you can listen and watch below. Show notes are beneath the YouTube embed. Please be sure to hit the “thumbs up” on YouTube and like us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks!



Best Editing Tips:

  • Two levels of editing for the writer
    NOTE: Don’t worry about this in your first draft. The first draft is all about getting the story down and learning about the characters.

    • Macro/Substantive (big picture)
      • Do you have a beginning, middle, and an end?
      • Does the story flow from beginning to conclusion?
        • Do you answer your main story question?
      • Are names used consistently
      • Are the prose strong but not pretentious.
      • Does every scene have a setting?
      • Is this character needed?
      • Scenes. Every scene must do one of three things:
        • Advance the story (advance the plot)
        • Set up future action
        • Reveal the character
      • Is there too much narration
        • Use shrunken manuscript to visualize this
    • Line editing. The big details (the publisher usually provides a copy edit. See the following.
  • Limit your adverbs and adjectives
    • Adverbs mean you have the wrong verbs. Adjectives mean you have the wrong nouns. Be specific and precise with your language. (HL) Cultivate the use of strong verbs and concrete nouns. Be vivid instead of fluffy.
    • (Al) Modifiers are not evil but they are often overused. They create prolixity (too many words). Use modifiers with intention. By that, I mean think before you modify.
  • (Al) Distinguish between narration and dialogue. Modifiers are often needed in dialogue so a character sounds genuine. For example, a five-year-old girl might describe a man sprinting down the street. “He ran really, really, really fast.” An adult wouldn’t speak that way, but a child would. Again, be intentional.
  • Do not be afraid of contractions (see what I did there?)
    • This is an easy way to keep an informal tone and save on words.
  • Dialog
    • Less is more. Also avoid being too formal or too realistic.
    • Does the dialog convey voice? Every character shouldn’t sound the same
    • Eliminate all lines that exist to further the conversation:
      • “Really? Then what happened?”
      • “Why?”
      • Etc.
    • Trim as many words as possible.
      • (Al) This is often referred to as “writing tight,” or “cutting the clutter.”
      • “Yes, I like it,” becomes “Yes,” or “I like it.”
      • Could any part of the dialogue be summarized instead of told directly? Can you use combo of direct/indirect. Not all conversations in your story need to be spelled out in full.
    • Cut tags or attributions. Stick with “said” and “asked” and only use those when necessary.
      • (Al) Learn to use beats, but don’t over do them.
      • beats can be action or emotion
      • (Al) Avoid things like, “No I don’t,” he said while lowering himself onto the barstool. I’ve seen manuscripts in which this formula is used with every snippet of dialogue.
  • (Al) Choose Active Voice over passive voice
    • Passive is sometimes good in “victim passive.”
  • (Al) Master Point of View (Check for POV fault)
  • Make use of my “Sneaky Prose Killers” post
  • Trust your reader:
    • Have you already said this? Don’t say it again.
      • He almost fell in love. Almost. (SIGH)
    • Stage directions
      • “She moved her arm up to open the door” becomes “She opened the door.”
  • (Al) Avoid tautologies (saying the same thing twice with different words).
    • They gave us a free gift. (If it’s a gift, then it’s free.”)
  • (Al) Avoid pleonasms (using unnecessary words, bloated writing).
    • She blinked her eyes. (What else would she blink?) When describing people’s actions don’t separate body and mind. Don’t use robotic operator approaches to a person’s body language. “I had my hand pat her on the shoulder” or the like.  
    • He stood to his feet. (As opposed to standing to his elbows.) Just, he stood. The same can be said for, He stood up.

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