Edit for the Editor – by Deborah J Ledford

Whether you write novels or short stories, once you’ve polished your final draft give your pages another look and keep the following in mind.

Simple editing examples:
Rework “was” words to make more active:
1) “He pointed to the hat that was on the counter.” = Merely deleting “that was” makes the sentence more active.
2) “There was the smell of garlic in the air.” Instead consider: “The aroma of garlic permeated the air and filled his nostrils, taking him back a decade to his grandmother’s kitchen.”

By presenting the passage this way, you not only kill the “was” word, you present the character’s emotion, and tap into the sense of smell, which is the strongest memory center of all the senses.

WORDS: Was, that, with, it, just. In many cases you won’t need “That” or “with”.
Clarify “it” whenever possible.
Reword sentences with “was” whenever possible. Sometimes only “was” will work, however do your best to fully flesh out your sentences actively.
ADVERBS: Kill them all—if at all possible.
SIMILES: Do your best to avoid them, or make the “was like” an original description.

Word Counts (markets may vary—check Submission Guidelines on websites):
Flash Fiction: 50-500 (sometimes up to 1,000) words
Short Story: 1,00-7,000 (although many editors prefer to receive no more than 5,000 words)
Long Story: 7,000-10,000 words
Novella: up to 15,000-40,000 words
Novels: 80-90,000 words maximum ideally (except for Historical Fiction)

PRINT OUT YOUR PAGES and read them out loud. You’ll be amazed by how many errors you will find. Especially echo words.

Read a lot. Read everything. However resist reading within your genre while you’re writing your first draft. You don’t want to risk finding yourself falling into another author’s voice.

You will also need to be familiar with authors and titles within your genre to get a feel for the market when you’re ready to compile your query letter list for agents, or publications for short story markets.

MY PERSONAL WORK PROCESS while writing a first draft:
I shoot for 2,000 words, or one full chapter per day. I compose the first draft of the chapter, print it out, edit, load the revisions to my Master File, print that version out, revise, load revisions…and so on until I’m pleased with the chapter. Then I print the pages out once more and read them out loud.

This turns out to be about the 7th or 8th draft, which saves me a lot of time editing subsequent drafts.

BUT overworking can be detrimental. I keep a DELETES file and drop elements I kill into that Word document. You never know what you will want later.

REMEMBER, your main objective is to complete your writing journey. If you prefer to write your novel straight through, even if it comes to 200,000 words, that’s fine. Every writer has their own process. Do whatever works best for you.

Your editor will love it if you keep all of these elements in mind.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest suspense novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing. To find out more about Deborah, receive a Free Download of the first chapters of her novels, and to read a few previously published short stories, she invites you to visit her homepage at the Second Wind Publishing website and her personal website.


Filed under writing

4 responses to “Edit for the Editor – by Deborah J Ledford

  1. Good general rules of thumb, Deborah; however, I take issue with your statement that clichés be verboten. I’ve been criticized for not simply saying what I mean. It’s not always a good thing to avoid the cliché, especially when it’s obvious to the reader that that is exactly your intention. There are times when it’s impossible to avoid them.

  2. Good post, Deborah. Good reminders. I did all the same editing you suggested, but I did each one separately. That made the job easier for me in the long run. Many times in rewording sentences, I came up with better, crispier sentences. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Following your guidelines certainly made my writing stronger, Deb! Thank you for posting these reminders.

  4. I’ve found it less stressful to wait until I’ve finished the entire work and gone through content revisions before I do a search and destroy for overused words. I have seen this taken to horrible extremes. One author had removed every single appearance of “was” and replaced it with tortured verb constructions.

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