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November 7, 2012

I’ve talked a lot about not paying for an editor. Well before you ever get to that stage, as part of learning your chops, you need certain self-editing skills. Let’s call them editing skills because you may be called upon to use them to help friends and colleagues at writer’s groups or when you become advanced enough, others may ask your help.

One of my big foibles, besides showing, not telling is repeat words. You may wonder what I mean by that because with our complex language, it’s almost impossible not to repeat certain common words, especially those that tie our language together. I’m not talking about those words. I’m talking about other words that stand out when they’re repeated.

Sharon walked into the room, flustered. She threw her coat on the chair and stood in the center of the room, not sure what to do with herself.

Can you see which repeated word needs to be fixed? Which one can be left alone?

Okay, I’m keeping this very simple for demonstration purposes. The is there to tie the nouns together, so they are, in themselves, not in need of purging. However, room is repeated twice within the paragraph. One of them should be changed to a different noun. Repeated words like that show monotony. Don’t be surprised if you find paragraphs in your own work that might have that word repeated three or four times!

Sharon walked into the room, flustered. She threw her coat on the chair and stood in the center of the dirty Persian carpet, not sure what to do with herself.

I not only changed it to a different noun, but threw in a little description.

A new friend who just joined my page wrote a piece on tenses. His humorous article mentioned your and you’re. I hope you know the difference. If not, here you go with the following sentences:

“Madam, your table is ready.” The waiter motioned to a table against the wall.

Your is possessive.

“You’re the first person to call me that in years.” Howard tipped his beer in a salute.

You’re is short for you are.

This is basic grammar, but you’d be surprised how many people I know make simple mistakes like that. They usually catch it during a read-through, but sometimes they don’t. There are plenty of other words that can grab you.

Another one is wrong usage. The one my friend Doug got me on was bated breath. I spelled it baited breath. He never let me hear the end of it!

I have a bad habit of repeating tags. Let me explain that. I hate using tags. In fact, I try not to use tags at all. Instead, I use actions or imply who is speaking. That can get dicey when there are multiple speakers. In the heat of dialogue, I tend to throw too many names at the beginning of sentences and though I try to look out for it, I never seem to get it right. My readers are very good at calling me on it. It can be frustrating how much I still miss those repeated tags even after I proofread multiple times.

Meleena snickered.

Baldar tugged on his beard.

Queelan shook his head.

These might be scattered throughout the page, but added up, can appear monotonous. I’ve gone over this a bit in a past article called Dialogue Tags.

As you edit your first, second and beyond drafts, learn to look for these telltale words. You won’t always know they are there until someone else points them out. You can’t use a word search every time to find them. Sometimes yes, but often as not, these are one-off incidents. Don’t get mad when someone else finds them. Fix them and move on!

Hone your chops!

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