5 Easy Tips to Make Editing a Breeze
One of the fastest, simplest ways to take your rough draft to the next level is tightening sentences and paragraphs. Though your manuscript may need help on other levels, line editing can make your rough draft look and feel more put together.
I wish that I could share all of the line editing tips and tricks, but to keep it simple, we'll start with five of my favorite tips. Work on one tip a day and you’ll have a stronger draft by the end of the week!
1. Eliminate "fluff" words.
These pesky little words can sneak into your manuscript without warning. They’re like preservatives in processed food, designed to trick you into thinking you're full when you're not.
They could be any word that doesn’t serve a purpose. The usual suspects are “there are,” “there is,” “it is,” “it was,” “it will be,” “just,” “really,” or “like.” These words aren't always bad. I've even used them in this blog post. The goal is not to abandon them but to see them as opportunities for stronger words.
For example, while writing this blog post, I wrote:
incorrect: When reviewing your manuscript, look out for the word by. It’s usually a dead giveaway that you’re using a passive verb.”
Then I revised it, like this:
correct: The word by is a dead giveaway you're using a passive verb.”
Here's another example I swiped off of my son's juice box:
incorrect: Non-GMO means that when there are genetically modified ingredients, we don’t use
correct: Non-GMO is our commitment to not use genetically modified ingredients. or
Non-GMO means we don’t use genetically modified ingredients.
Action Step: Search your manuscript for the fluff words: “there are,” “there is,” “it is,” “it will be,” “just,” “really,” or “like.” Rearrange or combine sentences with these sneaky words to make them tighter and punchier.
2. Better verbs, fewer adverbs.
If you’ve read any writing book, you’ve likely heard someone go on a rant about the evil of adverbs. So, before you scroll to the next tip, keep in mind that this advice has become cliché for a reason. A reliance on adverbs can cheapen your writing and potentially miss out on using a powerful verb.
Let's take this sentence for an example:
incorrect: I hung up the phone angrily.
correct: I threw the phone and receiver across the room.
Which one conveys more emotion? The one that doesn't use the adverb, of course.
Action Step: Search for -ly words in your manuscript and spend 2-3 minutes brainstorming a stronger verb. Use a thesaurus or consult your swipe file of good words you come across.
3. Vary sentence structure.
Do you remember the boring teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Out? Why was he boring? Because he said the same thing in the same tone over and over again.
Consider the sentences in your rough draft like going for a swim. Each period is a breath you take before diving back down. You don't want a series of short sentences--your reader will hyperventilate. And you certainly don't want a full paragraph as one sentence--your reader will drown. Choosing a healthy mix of both will keep your audience reading.
You can also use sentence variation to signal the mood to your reader. Short sentences speed up the action while longer ones help the audience relax.
Action Step: Read the first two pages of each chapter, looking specifically for sentence variation. Shorten the long sentences and lengthen the short ones until you have a nice mix of both.
4. Activate verbs.
Come with me back to middle school grammar. Remember when you studied active and passive verbs? There's a reason. Readers want words that give them forward movement, whether in a story or towards a goal. Active verbs give it to them.
Here are some examples to perhaps jog your memory:
passive: If you’ve ever been wounded by the church, I understand.
active: If the church has wounded you, I understand.
passive: I had been taken captive by my thoughts.
active: My thoughts took me captive.
The active sentences immediately launch the reader into the forward movement. If you're struggling to see the difference, the word by is a dead giveaway you're using a passive verb. Simply take the words after by and make them the subject of the sentence.
Action step: Search by in your manuscript and rework those sentences to make them active.
5. Watch for dangling or misplaced modifiers.
Dangling modifiers are as sneaky as filler words. This writing snafu is a phrase that modifies the wrong noun. They can have funny--although sometimes confusing--results. For example,
incorrect: Having left the country, God encouraged me to share my faith.
Did God leave the country? No, you did. But the phrase at the beginning of the sentence modifies God, indicating that God is the one who left the country. Here’s how you can easily reconstruct it:
correct: Once I left the country, God encouraged me to share my faith. or
God encouraged me to share my faith once I had left the country.
Another tricky mistake is the misplaced modifier. This one comes in the middle or at the end of a sentence.
incorrect: The lawyer argued her case to the judge that was air-tight.
correct: The lawyer argued her air-tight case to the judge.
Action Step: Search your rough draft for these opening or ending phases and watch what they modify.
Once you've finish these five tips, you're well on your way to a publishable manuscript. And, if you're ready to bring more players on your writing team and finally bring your manuscript to polished perfection, you can get started with a free sample edit.