NOTE: This post has been revised to include more information.
Downloadable PDF: The Ultimate Editing List (contains more content than the blog post)
First, I want to share my top five pet peeves as an editor. Or, more precisely, five errors I’d like more writers to be aware before submitting to an agent/editor/publisher.
1. Stay in the Same Tense
I’ve seen many stories that start in past or present tense then after a few pages or even a couple of chapters shift to another tense, without warning. The change doesn’t happen because of a time jump from past to present. Rather, the timeline is the same, but the writer makes this mistake without realizing it. Sometimes, this shifting can go on throughout the entire manuscript. This is an easy mistake. Admittedly, I had done it with my first attempts. A good beta reader can point this out, but it’s important for writers to be able to recognize this themselves, with practice.
2. Stick with One Name for a Character
In the narrative, if you refer to a character by their first name, don’t later change the name you use to their last name. Or vice versa. Establish the name you want your character to be known by in the beginning and stick with it. Dialogue is another story, however. A character’s name can change in dialogue depending on their nicknames and titles.
3. Join Complete Sentences
Make sure when you join two sentences with a comma and conjunction (and, or, but) that the sentence following the comma is complete with a subject.
Example: She couldn’t wait to go on vacation, but she had a deadline to meet first.
(This is correct, because there is a subject following the comma and the conjunction. If you remove “she” from the second half of the sentence, it would become a fragment.)
4. Pay Attention to Gerund Phrases
Gerund phrases begin with a verb that ends in “ing.” These phrases can be at the beginning of a sentence or at the end of the sentence following a comma. The problem is, some of the sentences might not make sense together.
Example: Smiling, she tilted her head.
This is correct, because you can smile and tilt your head at the same time.
Example: Running upstairs, she flopped onto her bed.
This is not correct, because you can’t run upstairs and flop onto your bed at the same time, not even if your bed happens to be in the stair way. You’d have to stop one act to do the other.
You can use the Find tool to search for “ing” to double-check these phrases. If you find an incorrect phrase, a little revision is all that’s needed to make it work.
5. Comma Splices
Comma splices are very common. I know that I have comma splices in my earliest works, but they are incorrect. A comma splice is when two independent clauses (sentences) are joined by a comma.
Example: Mom ordered pizza, Dad went to pick it up. (Comma Splice)
Example: Mom ordered pizza, and Dad went to pick it up. (Correct)
Most of the time, adding a conjunction fixes this problem. Or you can replace the comma with a semi-colon or period.
With the top five errors I come across as an editor out of the way, I now present my ultimate editing list, which I hope will help you to tighten your writing.
Redundant/Incorrect Phrases to Fix:
· He thought to himself = He thought
· Stand/stood up = Stand/stood
· Sit/sat down = Sit/sat
· Turned back = Turned
· Turned around = Turned
· Return back = Return
· Rise up = Rise
· Descended down = Descended
· Low/soft whisper = Whisper
· Woke/wake up = Woke/wake
· Checked/check out = Checked/check
· Rest up = Rest
· Fix up = Fix
· Reason why = Reason
· Right here = Here
· Meet with = Meet
· Final outcome = Outcome
· Added bonus = Bonus
· Total blackout = Blackout
· Bald-headed = Bald
· Visibly Upset = Upset
· Try out = Try
· Each and every = Each
· As many as = Up to
Here Is a List of Words to Cut Because They Clutter Sentences:
Example: She swore that it would never happen again.
Better: She swore it would never happen again.
Example: Jamie and Matt both wanted ice cream
Better: Jamie and Matt wanted ice cream.
Note: While I try to eliminate as many of these as I can, I still use “just” and “only” every now and then.
Cut These Words to Make Clear, Assertive Statements:
· Kind of
· Sort of
· A little
Example: The cut hurt slightly.
Better: The cut hurt.
Example: Now stop it!
Better: Stop it!
Phrases to Eliminate to Make Your Writing More Specific:
· There was/were
· There is/are
· It was
· That had been
Example: “It was a dark and stormy night.”
Better: The night was dark and stormy.
Tell your readers exactly what “it”, “that”, and “there” refers to so your meaning is clear.
· Site is a place
· Sight is vision
· Affect (verb) means to influence someone/thing (weather conditions affect)
· Effect (noun) is a result of something (side effects of medication)
· Could care less = Couldn’t care less
· Shouldn’t of = Shouldn’t have
· Six year old girl = six-year-old girl (hyphenated when used before a noun)
· By who = By whom (whom – him/her)
· Only had = Had only
· Try and = Try to
· All of = All
· Off of = Off
Eliminate Passive Voice:
· Had/have been
· Will be
Passive voice is when the subject of a sentence is acted upon.
Example: Ben was attacked by a swarm of bees.
Active Voice is when the subject of a sentence is the doer of the action.
Example: A swarm of bees attacked Ben.
However, it's not totally wrong to use passive voice.
Example: My car was stolen!
This a correct sentence if your character doesn't know who stole their car.
Eliminate How Many Sentences Begin with These Words Back-to-Back:
· He/she (third person)
· I (first person)
Variety is the spice of...writing.
Clichés to Rewrite or Delete:
· Stopped in his/her tracks
· Yell at the top of his/her lungs
· At his/her fingertips
· Sigh of relief
· Blood boil
· Glaring sun
· Cold as ice
· Hot as hell
· Scared to death
· Eyes were glazing over
· Bared her soul
· In the blink of an eye
· All hell broke loose
· Time flies
· Deer caught in headlines
· Pale as a ghost
When you finish your first draft, go through this list slowly to eliminate these words and phrases. And, remember, we all do them.