Look, editing is hard. I’ve said it many, many times. When you’re starting, it can be incredibly confusing. One person tells you to do this, and another tells you oh God no. Do this. Do that. It’s hard. I can’t tell you what’s right for your story, but as far as I can tell, there are a couple basic things you need to know.
Passive vs. Active Voice
This is the big one everyone talks about. Your writing must be active, not passive, blah blah blah. I read that advice over and over again without really thinking about it, because I didn’t really know what it meant. I mean, sure, I understood the whole your character should be doing the action, not having it done to them thing, but that was about it. I thought that was it.
In reality, the difference between active and passive writing comes mostly from the verbs you use. Instead of using she is running or I was laughing, use she runs or I laughed.
Regardless, passive writing can have its merits. If you’re trying to portray a character as very detached and emotionally passive, it’s okay to use in sparing amounts. If your character zones out and comes back to someone else talking, you can also use the passive voice. But the key word here is sparing. Use it wisely.
Proof the language
Seriously. I know most writers proofread their work before sending it off, but back when I was writing online (and especially with fanfictions), I would upload chapters or stories without looking them over first. This led to a lot of interesting spelling mistakes, including making t-shirt into a swear word. Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson.
Get rid of wordy sentences
The general rule of thumb for sentences is that they should be under three 12-point lines of text, or forty words. Or, even better, if you read it out loud and are completely winded by the time you finish the sentence, it might be better to cut it down.
Vary sentence length
It’s also a good idea to make sure to mix up your sentence lengths. It depends on the scene, of course—for instance, fight scenes tend to have shorter sentences—but if you have too many long or short sentences in a row, it can break up the flow of your story. Too many short sentences can make it choppy, while too many long sentences can, at least for me, make it boring.
This is a fairly obvious one, but it’s also very important. It’s especially vital in the second or third edit, where you might’ve changed some of the verbs around between revisions. Make sure you haven’t left any loose ends; all of your verbs need to agree with the subjects they’re used with.
Adverbs are well-debated in the writing community. Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em, and some people don’t really have an opinion on them. A lot of sites I’ve looked at about editing tell you to nix adverbs, especially if they’re used in dialogue tags (e.g. she said dreamily). Personally, like with the passive voice, I think it’s okay to use sparingly. If you can get rid of it without changing the story too much, do it. If you can’t, well, make sure it counts.
Same thing goes for adjectives. Use them sparingly. Description is important, but it’s equally important to make sure it sounds right. Instead of using cliché, “laundry-list” descriptors like “her long, flowing blonde hair” or “his sparkling, forest-green eyes”, try something else. Talk about how her hair fell in waves around her face when she moved, or how his eyes reminded others of the forest they used to play in, etc.
Sentences that start with I
Starting too many sentences with I is another good way to break up the flow of your story because it draws readers out of the narrative. It’s also a pet peeve of mine. I’ve read a lot of stories online that do this, and even though they might be good, if they fall into the I woke up, I walked into the bathroom and brushed my hair, I put on my makeup… trap, I can’t do it.
The same goes for any other word. If you find yourself starting sentences with the same word over and over again, you might want to try mixing it up. Personally, I try not to start a sentence the same way more than twice.
Do you have any other editing tips?