Monday, October 26, 2009

Five Free Pieces of Editorial Advice

Crashing on a deadline today, and distracted by an unusually whiny Dizzy, who wants to be outside while the sun shines.

If you are working on a manuscript and thinking about asking an editor to look at it, you can save the editor time (and yourself money) by following these five principles.

1. If you're writing any form of personal nonfiction, avoid all versions of the phrase "I remember." The narrator's voice is yours; everything you write is something you remember. That phrase "I remember" or "I recall" wastes your readers' time by giving us information we already have. If you're not sure that something happened the way you remember it, confirm it with a third party. Otherwise, trust your memory and trust your reader.

2. Treat adverbs as if they cost money. The subject and verb should be enough to convey the emotion or impact of an action. Reading is an exercise in receiving and deducing information; don't take that pleasure of drawing inferences away from your readers. And it's a paradox, but intensifiers raise doubts. That is, if you say someone is "very pretty," the reader thinks, "well, very pretty but not beautiful," and you've just missed your target. Likewise, if you say something is "truly" or "genuinely" something-or-other, your reader will wonder what's not true or genuine in the rest of your prose.

3. Avoid all words for said except "said." Think about how you speak. Do you ever use the words "stated," "exclaimed," or
"responded," in conversation? Lawyers and law-enforcement officials sometimes use the word "stated," and I'll occasionally use the word "replied" or "shouted" (because sometimes people shout). But if you don't use the word in conversation, don't use it in colloquial writing. (This does not, however, give you permission to write, "And then she went like, 'Ohmigod, that's awesome!'")

4. Longer's not better. Arguments are like punches. Make them fast and sharp. The more important your point, the fewer words you should use.

5. Almost any sentence is stronger without the word "there." The sentence, "There are so many ways I can annoy my clients" is nowhere near as strong as "I can annoy my clients in so many ways."

Not, of course, that I'm trying to annoy my clients . . .


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

There is so much in this that is so very very helpful and interesting and really really cool, I remember when a teacher of mine posited some things about writing but there was nothing in what he said that remotely compared to the really good stuff you shared. By the way I do love that Radiohead song "There there."

Larry said...

alright. . . all right! We will always need you.

AnswerGirl said...

Shut up, Tom. Thank you, Larry.