I recently had a story’s first section critiqued by a freelancer editor. The results weren’t happy but instead of wallowing in misery I decided to take note about many of his criticisms. Here we have five line edits he made throughout the piece with examples from the story and what they should be changed to. These points are to reduce word usage, smooth out the sentence, and make sure the sentence is clear in meaning. I’m sure, as with everything, these will not apply to 100% of sentences 100% of the time.
- Don’t be vague when you can be specific
Ex-“I have to leave for the weekend. My mother seems to be getting worse”
Should be: “I have to go to Portland this weekend. My mother thinks her cancer is coming back”
There is no reason not to have specifics when you can have them. With the original sentence, you don’t know where the character is going and you don’t know why. Adding them in makes the information more real than glossed over.
2. Appendages don’t move, people do
Ex- “His hand patted the baby’s back”
Should be: “He patted the baby’s back”
Removes a single word from the sentence and makes it more connected to the character.
3. Avoid double verbing
Ex- “He continued to stumble over lines…”
Should be: “He stumbled over lines…”
Removed two words from the sentence and makes it flow better. There are sentences where you can say ‘He started to…’ for good reason such as an interruption, but most of the time it’s avoidable.
4. Eliminate “was” where possible
Ex- “The only response from the baby was more crying”
Should be: “The baby responded with more crying”
Takes the would-be subject of the example sentence, the “response” and puts it as the verb instead, deleting three words in the process. Obviously, there are some verbs which you need “was” though.
5. Less is more
Ex – “Two weeks of practice didn’t help him accomplish it”
Should be: “Two weeks of practice didn’t help”
The extra three words at the end didn’t need to be there since we already know the practice “didn’t help”.
(Apologies for the inconsistent format. WordPress is dumb with numbered lists.)