The Editor’s Corner – Adjective Abuse

Last week I threw you a red herring to pull you off track for copy editing. But now that’s over, this week we’re back to talking about adjective use, or rather, adjective abuse.

Adjectives are fine, but too many of them can wind up being boring and repetitive. Yes, they’re useful in telling a person whether or not their soup is hot, or if it’s cold outside. But too many of them signal to an editor or publisher that the writing is weak, and that there’s more “tell” than “show.”

As you already know, you want way more show than tell. Some tell is fine, but too much makes the reader disengage.

When you’re a writer, you want engaging reading that’s creative, not a play-by-play report.

This goes hand-in-hand with the overuse of adverbs, remember.

But don’t despair! There is an easy fix for it that you can do right now.

Instead of:
Lonnie was cold.

Try:
Lonnie stepped outside and pulled her jacket around her. She shivered, mindful of the patches of ice on the pavement.

With the first one, you get it. Lonnie’s cold. In the second one, you’re walking with her, outside, pulling your jacket around you and trying to avoid the ice patches on the ground.

That’s all there is to it.

For practice, go back over one of your old drafts and find where you’re using adjectives. Rewrite the passage to show the reader what you were trying to say with your adjective.

Happy writing!


If you’d like to read some snazzy adjectives used sparingly (ooh there go those adverbs again), pick up my works. It’s great for horror and weird fiction fans. 

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The Editor’s Corner – Red Herrings

Welcome to another edition of The Editor’s Corner. Let’s fish around and see what kind of devices we can reel in here: red herrings.

Okay—enough with the puns. I know you didn’t come here to laugh and/or roll your eyes at my punderful style.

What is a red herring?

A red herring, in literature, is a distraction technique that you will see mostly in thrillers, mysteries, and suspense. They catch the reader’s attention and lead them away from what’s actually going on in the novel.

Some red herrings are obvious and can be spotted by seasoned mystery readers. For example, in The Da Vinci Code, the Bishop Aringarosa is a red herring designed to lead the reader to believe that he is the criminal mastermind when he is innocent. A reader of mysteries with loads of experience might raise their eyebrow at that name. The direct translation of aringa rosa in Italian is “red herring.”

For many mystery readers, this was an eye-rolling moment. For beginners, it likely got them hooked on mysteries for a lifetime.

It’s important to have your red herrings be a little more subtle in order to have the reader stay engaged.

How?

There are a couple ways to accomplish this:

  1. Make your culprit seem like a red herring. You can do this by exposing the culprit at the beginning, but the culprit has a good distraction of his/her own that throws your protagonist off the main trail, and into a bunch of other red herrings, only to be brought back to the culprit in the end.
  2. Put in more than one red herring and make sure your culprit is obfuscated somewhat in the beginning, only to reveal he/she has been there all along.

This is not a copy editor’s pro-tip. This is from a developmental editor’s perspective. If your editor can spot your red herrings too quickly, they’ll mark up the manuscript and typically advise you to change it around.

And here you thought I was a copy editor all along.

See what I did there?

Ha ha!

But in all seriousness, if you are tackling a mystery or thriller, a few red herrings can delight your readers as they try to unravel the mystery in front of them.

We’ll go back to copy editing and then hop back to other devices in the next installments.

Until then, happy writing!


Horror fans who know Cthulhu devours red herrings as an appetizer and enjoy Lovecraftian horror with a twist can find their way to Silver Hollow

The Editor’s Corner – Dialogue Attribution

Welcome to another edition of The Editor’s Corner! I am your host, editor and writer Anne Hogue-Boucher.

Last week, I wrote about adverb usage, and as a side note, feel free to use them often in your first draft. I do. I use them as placeholders when I’m trying to get out an idea and then in my second go-around, I’ll take them out and replace them with stronger writing. I just use them as reminders of the mood I wanted to set for the passage.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s move onto tip number two.

Today’s tip is about dialogue attribution, and for many of you, this will fly in the face of what your English teacher taught you.

I will tell you now that your publisher/editor and English teacher often work at cross-purposes. Your English teacher is trying to help you expand your vocabulary and improve your ability to be more flexible with it. Your editor and publisher are trying to help you not look like a neophyte writer.

So don’t be upset if you find this contradicts what you were taught. Just remember that this is for a different arena.

Ready?

Never use anything but “said” and “asked” in your dialogue attribution. Everything else is a surefire way to mark you as an inexperienced writer.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

“There’s a monkey in that tree,” John hollered.
“Shoot it!” Matt screamed.
“Why? It’s not doing anything,” John growled.
“It’s stealing my bananas!” Matt insisted.

Why is this wrong and why does it sound like a greenhorn wrote it? A couple of reasons. This is not really showing the reader what’s going on, and it becomes a tad redundant. We want to show the reader what’s happening to draw them into the scene rather than tell them what’s going on in it. Showing brings the reader in and gets them involved. Telling makes them passive, and not invested.

It’s also redundant. Everyone is hollering, screaming, growling, and insisting. Do you get it now, reader? Are you sure everyone is in an uproar? Here the reader might roll their eyes. They get it. Stop smashing it in their faces.

So let’s clean it up and see what happens:

“There’s a monkey in that tree,” John’s voice echoed off the rocks that created a barrier from the shore.
“Shoot it!” Matt waved his hands at John. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead.
“Why? It’s not doing anything.”
“It’s stealing my bananas!” Matt ran his hands into his hair and pulled, bending over as he fell to the ground.

If you have an exclamation point (use those sparingly, by the way), then ‘screamed’ and ‘hollered’ aren’t necessary. You also don’t always need to attribute your dialogue if it’s clear who’s doing the talking, so even ‘said’ and ‘asked’ become words you can use less.

Rather than reusing ‘said’ and ‘asked’ repeatedly, show the scene to your reader. Make your reader hear John’s voice echoing off the rocks. Make your reader hear Matt’s insistence and panic/outrage.

“Do you understand now?” I asked the reader of this blog, who may or may not be scowling at these words. “It’s not that your attribution is wrong, just that it’s less than professional. So give it another go, and see how much better you can make it.”

That’s it for this installment. Questions? Send me a message on Facebook.

Happy writing.

The Editor’s Corner – The “Deadly” Adverb

It’s been 10 months since I did my first edition of The Editor’s Corner (a bonus piece, in fact), and I think it’s high time I gave it another go with my first official tip. Considering all the writing I’ve been looking at these days, well, I think there are a few things that need to be addressed.

When I was a professional editor, I got to review people’s writing before it was published, and I wound up seeing some common errors that beginners make.

These mistakes can make it more difficult to get published.

I thought it might be fun (or at least informative) for aspiring writers out there to get some tips from not only someone who is published, but also helped (and helps) others get their manuscripts ready for publishing.

So, here’s the first tip, tongue-in-cheek named:

Use adverbs sparingly. That doesn’t mean you can’t have one or two, but most of the time, there’s a much stronger way to say and show what you mean to your reader.

Here’s an example:

Instead of: “I wouldn’t do that,” Brett said calmly.

Try: “I wouldn’t do that.” Brett leaned back in his chair, arms loose by his side.

That’s it, cut your adverbs down and try building a stronger way to say what you mean. When you can’t do that, then maybe throw in an adverb now and then. For the most part, though, publishers will zero in on your use of adverbs and it will scream to them, “new writer ahead, unprofessional, unskilled.” Klaxons will sound in their heads and they are far less likely to take a risk on publishing your work.

NaNoWriMo is coming up this November. That’s just a little less than three months away now at the time of this writing. Time to hone your skills and get ready.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to eliminate the use of adverbs all the way down to one per 1,000 words. After that, try one every 2,000 words. Do this until you have rid yourself of that pesky gadfly.


Anne Hogue-Boucher likes to rid herself of adverbs as often as possible. You can read the results in her current works, and even follow her around on Twitter and Facebook.

The Editor’s Corner – The Rough Draft

As you know, last week we just finished up a section on grief in The Psych Writer Series. So this week I wanted to take a break and head to The Editor’s Corner. After all, we’re writers, not psychologists. (For those of you enjoying TPW, we’ll get back to it soon!)

I have a little online writing group and as a freelance editor, I give writing tips and tricks to the youngsters on how to improve their writing (they are ages 13-20). But I don’t care to be all high-and-mighty. I write, too.

And my rough drafts are hellacious.

Everyone’s are. But I put them up in the group, anyway.

There is a reason that I post my rough drafts for their critique. I want to show them that even an editor who picks apart everything about a novel from start to finish to help them make a better piece of writing also has crappy rough drafts. We all have our quirks and problems in our first draft.

This is why I present them a rough draft, so they can see that.

Why?

Because the first time a person gets their manuscript back with line-by-line changes and more “red ink” on it than black, it’s effing discouraging and makes people want to throw their work out the window and into a bonfire.

But I assure them: if you get something back that marked up, it means you have potential. An editor will not waste time on a work if they don’t think it can grow.

So if they or you ever ask me for my professional feedback and you get it, even if some of it’s difficult to take, know that me spending time on your work means something. It means I think it has potential, and that’s the highest compliment an editor can pay to a writer.

In a letter to 19-year-old Arnold Samuelson, Ernest Hemingway once wrote the following:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is sh*t. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

This is what an editor helps people do. We don’t function as writers in that moment. What we do is massage the work into a shape that will leave the reader euphoric, devastated, or otherwise moved. They will incorporate your story into the tapestry of their lives.

This is why I share my rough drafts with my group. To show them that the work is always, without exception, in need of more refinement.

So when you share a work with a professional and it’s a rough draft, expect a lot of feedback. A lot of it. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or it’s crap. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Happy writing!


I am Anne Hogue-Boucher. I write stuff and then I edit it, and then edit it some more. I also get it edited. If you’d like to read some of my work, pick up a copy of Exit 1042. There’s more on the way. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

The Self-Published Guide to Editing

Last month, I did a guest post for Author’s Publish called Five Free & Cheap Editing Options for your Manuscript. (By the way, if you haven’t signed up for their guides and newsletters, do it. They’re a great resource.)

When you’re going the route of self-publishing, you have to rely on yourself to do everything. These days, that’s not all that different from working with a publishing house.

The main difference is that your publisher will handle editing for you. When you’re on your own, that’s up to you. But even if you don’t have a lot of walking-around money, you can still get decent editing done for your own manuscript.

Take a look at the article, and happy editing!

Too Much or Too Little: Pacing Problems

Janice Hardy, back in 2011, wrote an article on Fiction University about pacing problems and how to fix them, called Move Along: Fixing Pacing Problems. Five years later, it’s still relevant.

If you’re a writer, you know that pacing is important. Personally, my greatest issue I’ve worked hard to overcome is rushing the ending. I have all this tension built up and then SPLAT–the end. Oops!

My coping mechanism is to actually reduce my daily word count by half when I get to the final third of my novel. If I did 3,000 a day, I shoot for 1,500. 2,000? 1,000. You get it. This way, I’m forced to take my time getting to the ending so I can build up the proper tension for the denouement.

No matter what your pacing problem is, Janice has a solution for you. Give it a read–it might help!


I’m a writer and I like to edit people’s work for fun and to feed my pets. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for the entertainment value. If you need a work fully edited for a reasonable fee, contact me.

Editing Your First Draft: A Tale of Terror

I once told you to go edit yourself after a break of about six weeks. So, let’s say those six weeks have passed, and you’re ready to start editing your manuscript.

So, there it is — 60, 70, 100, 200,000 words — all sitting there just staring at you, waiting for those first cuts or elaborations and clarifications. Where do you start?

Most read their own manuscripts through about five times, but I like to go through mine six. It’s not actually to be more thorough or a topper or anything. You’ll see why in a moment.

Step One: Read for enjoyment.

Here’s what I like to do when I start editing anything. I read it for its content. Just a read through as if I were picking up the book for enjoyment. This step is where you set aside all your judgments and just enjoy what you’ve written. Now, if you’re overly critical of yourself, you might find things during your reading that you don’t like, or catch a mistake in continuity, spelling, or grammar. If you can’t let it go, make a quick note of it and set it aside. Then, just keep reading. Read it through to the bitter end, or the happy end, or whatever ending you’ve written.

This is a healthy way to just get through and enjoy your work and what you’ve accomplished, and it will set you up to start gearing into editor’s mode in the next five steps.

Step Two: Read for supplementation.

This is where you need to add in what you forgot to in the first place. Did you describe a scene but find it lacking? Add details — sound, smell, sights — and the explanation of how characters got to be where they were wherever you feel it’s important. Yes, many people will tell you it’s not necessary to add anything to your first draft, but I’ve found that to be simply untrue. But don’t worry, you’ll cut it down later.

Step Three: Read for expurgation and condensation.

It’s later now…your third read should be finding all those ugly spots where there’s just too much exposition. If you lose between 20-25% of your manuscript, that’s fine. It’s expected. I’ve deleted entire chapters without hurting the story. Cut back on anything that’s getting preachy. You don’t want to mess too much with your story’s point.

You may also want to cut back things that got to be too much (too overtly sexual, violent, or factual). Use your best judgment. Did you really mean to have the family dog eat your antagonist’s manky bits? You might want to take it out, or not. Depends on what kind of mood your going for (and especially important in that case if you want your antagonist to have children). Of course, this will also depend on your genre. Erotica, slasher, shlock, and other genres may allow more graphic detail.

Tighten up your writing. Make your sentences pop, kill the verbosity when necessary, and get your point across.

Step Four: Read for content.

Hand-in-hand with expurgation and condensation, you need to do another read through for your content. Did one of your characters get stabbed on page 37 and is absolutely fine without reason on page 38? Did Sally J. mysteriously move from apartment #4 to #8? Oops! Now’s the time to fix it.

Make sure your timeline makes sense, and you don’t have characters meeting before they’re introduced (unless you’re going for a wibbly-wobbly timey wimey thing and totally doing that on purpose), and that your point of view isn’t bouncing around from one character to the other constantly (unless you’re going for that, but make sure it’s handled with skill to avoid confusing your readers).

Here is the ideal time to do your fact-checking. If you’re using anything in your story that is based in fact (for example, recently I needed to know some stuff about guns and helicopters), do your research. Google, watch YouTube videos, and ASK people you know to be experts. Get the information down and make sure your story makes SOME sense. No, you don’t have to be 100% accurate and can take license with certain things to fit your plot and drive it forward, but if you don’t even make the effort to be accurate, it will show, and your work will get called out for it.

Conversely, you can also write too much on the facts and lose the story — so go ahead and cut that back if you haven’t already in step three. Remember, it’s all about the story. Whether you’re character driven or plot driven, your main focus needs to be your story, not how many hours of research you’ve done or how many experts you’ve interviewed. Ultimately, it comes down to the story you’re telling.

That having been said, some people just don’t care and do it anyway — they just write whatever comes into their head, and damn the research. Unfortunately, it can ruin the fun for your audience. In this case, I would put a disclaimer in your author’s notes, preemptively asking for forgiveness. It can help massage the audience into a bit of forgiveness. However, I’m all for maintaining a balance between your facts and your fiction.

Step Five: Read for sentence structure and minutiae.

This read is where you do your real spelling and grammar check. Take out your fine-tooth comb and start scouring your pages for the correct usage of ‘too, to, and two’ and all that. Make sure that everything is consistent, too. Your dialog doesn’t have to be grammatically correct at all, but it needs to be consistent. You don’t want your Harvard Professor Emeritus sounding like a rural Kansas farmer, right? The same goes for your punctuation. If you’re using the Oxford comma, make sure you’re using it consistently throughout your text.

Check to see if you’re using a single word too often, and take those out. “Quickly, Maynard went to the door and quickly opened it. The girl stood still, soaking wet in the rain. He quickly took her inside and wrapped her up in a towel.” Guess which word needs to go? (Hint: it’s NOT Maynard.)

Do a quick review to make sure you didn’t rename a town by accident, and make sure you spell your place names consistently.

Double check your sentences. Seriously. Make sure you’ve gotten rid of clunky sentences or fixed them in such a way that they’re nice and smooth. Get rid of trite crap.

You’ll also want to ensure that your paragraph transitions are slick and easy. Do this now.

Step Six: Read it to an audience.

When all of this is done, go ahead and find a victim…a willing one, please — and read your manuscript aloud. If you don’t have anyone, record it and play it back to yourself as if you were listening to an audio book. This will help you with your previous five steps. You can catch repetitive and/or awkward sentences here, and that’s a huge help for clarity.

Additionally, you’ll also be able to hear dialog better, and see if you can keep track of who’s speaking.

Finally, it’ll help your pacing, and you can go back and fix spots that drag or slow down anything that’s too rushed.

That’s it!

Congratulations, you’ve gone through your first revision. Now, it’s up to you to do further editing, or allow a second set of eyes to edit your work. This can be in the form of an editor or beta reader. It can give you a different, more detached perspective on your work that can help get your manuscript ready for publishing, and an agent or editor will appreciate it.

Okay…what are you still doing here? Get editing already!

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.