Common editing issues

September 21, 2016 Jessie


Even if your story has brilliant characters, a stunning world, heartwrenching emotion, and breathless action… if it's poorly edited, it won't engage readers. Editing can make or break a book release. Hundreds of books are released every single week, and strong editing will help you stand apart from the crowd.

I work closely with authors to understand their voice and vision for a manuscript. I believe in honing each author's work so it shines, but not slashing and burning every paragraph to the ground so the author's voice is lost and my own voice intrudes on the book.

Here are some of the most common issues I help authors improve in their work:

Show, don’t tell
If you're a writer, you've heard this piece of advice before. That's because it's so important. Don't just summarize plot points. Allow your readers to experience a story through action, dialogue, and senses. Here's an example:
Telling: "He left the room in anger."
Showing: "The planks of the floor squealed in protest as he stormed out of the room."

Unnecessary filler
Don't worry; I'm not here to tell you to write like Hemingway. But I will help you identify unnecessary scenes that drag down the plot, cut out slow openers and anticlimactic denouements, and rid your sentences of over-described filler.
Example: "She walked across the room, opened the window, looked outside, jumped onto the balcony, and was gone."
Tighter: "She flung open the window and leaped to the balcony."

Point of view
It can be jarring to be deep in one character's perspective and suddenly find yourself in the thoughts of someone else, noticing something that's impossible for the current character to know. I'll help you choose the POV that best serves your narrative and stick to it.

Under-sharing your world-building means forgetting that your reader can only know what they've read on the page. If a character makes an oblique reference to a scene that was cut during one of your revisions, your readers will be stymied. I'll help you avoid this.
Over-sharing or "info-dumping" your world-building means you write long passages that explain in excessive detail the backstory, the system of money or magic, or the importance of a moment. I'll help you trim down your world-building to a few spare lines that help ground your readers but not condescend to them or bore them with too much detail.

Distracting or incorrect dialogue tags
"Laughed" and "sighed" are actions that can happen right after someone speaks. "Said" and "whispered" are dialogue tags that help the reader understand who is talking, and how. I'll help you avoid overusing colorful dialogue tags—if everyone is screaming and yelling all the time, a scene can get exhausting. I'll help you cut them where an action can help clarify who is speaking, and add them when it's not clear who is speaking.

Have you ever watched a movie and delighted in spotting a scene error? In one scene, the actor is holding a shrimp cocktail, and in the next, he's holding a hamburger. Or it's daytime when it should be the dead of night. Or a telephone rings but you know telephones haven't been invented yet. As your editor, I help you catch these inconsistencies and eliminate them. Your character's eyes should be brown on page two, ninety-two, and four hundred sixty-two.

Repeated words or phrases
It's easy to accidentally mention "tears" seven times on a single page when you're writing a sad scene. I'll help you watch for repetitive language to keep the writing fresh and interesting to the reader. I'll also help you vary your sentence structure and length so the rhythm of the story doesn't get in a rut.

Verb tense
Novels are complex—filled with dialogue, current action, flashbacks, and other places where the tense can vary. It's critical to get every verb tense correct. I'll help you stick to past, present, or maybe past perfect and past progressive… as the story dictates.

Confused words
Beware homonyms! Of course the famous ones are they're/their/there, its/it's, then/than, lay/lie, affect/effect, passed/past, and many more.

Since every editor uses slightly different lingo, below are the three different types of editing I offer:

Developmental Editing
Here's where you get the in-depth edit of your manuscript. I'll watch for character behavior/speech, style issues, thematic variances, plot holes, and readability. I'll help you focus your conflict, amp up your themes, develop your characters, resolve your plotlines, and deliver a hard-punching and beautiful story—that is, the story you want to tell. I'll help you hone your voice while keeping in mind your intended audience, and I'll ensure that everything makes sense and the plot is plausible. I'll help you wrangle your unruly characters into well-rounded people facing situations consistent with their motivations. Is there anything that seems derivative, trite, or overdone? Are there any plot holes, unexplained jumps in time or location, or major inconsistencies? Are there sections of the story that are underdeveloped or overdeveloped, or do sections of the story drag? I'll help you ensure your ending is satisfying.

Are you in the middle of the second draft and need help fleshing out the book? I'll ensure your manuscript has a solid foundation. In copyediting, I check for clarity, flow, timeline issues, and efficiency in telling your story. Are your transitions smooth? Are there any awkward sentences or stiff prose? Does the dialogue feel authentic and active? Do sentence structures and lengths vary? Do chapters begin and end effectively? Do paragraph breaks make sense?

Line editing (proofreading)
Line editing is usually the last step in the editing process before proofreading. I will check your manuscript for grammar, punctuation, spelling, consistency, and word usage. This is the “final polish” to get your manuscript ready for publication.

Authors will often first go through a complete developmental edit and then return for a complete line edit.

Click here for rates, to see a more detailed list of what each type of editing includes, and to schedule a free consultation.