My Top Three Quick Editing Notes
When I’m not busy writing, I’m reading, and more specifically, I’m reading self-published works to help those authors out. By doing so, I’ve picked up on three easy ways to improve any manuscript that even I am guilty of, but having seen them so often, these mistakes are now in the forefront of my mind when editing. Here they are:
1) Would / Could
I was not even aware of this flaw until I began seeing it a lot of other writing. Then I turned a sharp eye to my old work and saw the same error pop up—the use of the word ‘would.’ Take a look.
He was glad he wouldn’t be the one to clean up the room.
She would seem to be getting better.
Now, I’m not saying to never use the word. That’s ridiculous. But, clearly, in the examples above, using the past tense of ‘to be’ is more efficient. ‘Would’ is commonly used as the past tense form for ‘will’ or to show conditionality, so in situations were you need to make such a future bound or questionable statement, it is still okay. However, when the word is used in its uncertain or polite sense, then you need to take a closer look and possibly change it. Clarity is best. Like so.
He was glad he wasn’t the one to clean up the room.
She seemed to be getting better.
This is another one I see many trip up on. I think it stems from our youth, telling stories to each other or recanting the crazy events of the day to mom and dad. In that sense, continuous in any form is good…just not in writing. Continuous should only be used if the event is happening now—whenever that present moment is—or when two things happen at the same time. It should not be used to just describe something, like below.
A moment after stepping into school, I saw her. Her face was red, and her eyes twitched. She talked to some other girls and then was coming right up to me. I didn’t know what to do.
The first usage is fine. It is, in fact, a truncated adverb clause. The second, however, is a different story. Here, the ‘she…was coming right up to me’ could easily be replaced by ‘she…came right up to me.’ It is clearer and more direct, which is what an author desires.
3) Present Perfect / Past Perfect
This one is not so clear-cut, for many reasons. The biggest one is culture. American English tends toward using simple past more than anything else while British English likes to thrust in their present and past perfects from time to time. In a way, it could be preference, and in no way am I saying one way is clearer than another. But, coming from America, I feel the less wordage, the better. Check it out.
After lunch, he had gone back to work but, within minutes, was sick.
I have seen this man before but, at that moment, couldn’t remember where.
So, here, I would find these structures grating and too wordy. Though there are times when they might be a better fit, erring in the favor of simple past has always been the best in my book. Again—preference! But I feel the sentence rings truer than before. You decide.
After lunch, he went back to work but, within minutes, was sick.
I saw this man before but, at that moment, couldn’t remember where.
Obviously, there are many more little nuances that every writer keeps their eye trained for. If you have any particularly unique ones, please, leave a comment. I’d love to hear them.