Polishing and refining novels since 2011.

A Few of Hollie’s Editing Tips

Note from Hollie: This is a simple, quick-and-dirty tip sheet to help my clients, potential clients, and curious writers know how they can improve their own manuscripts before sending them to me. This list skims the top of editing offenses and is not by any means comprehensive. Every editor is different, and this list is based on what I’ve seen in more than ten years of editing.

Punctuation in dialogue 
Here in the United States, commas, periods, question marks, and exclamation points go inside the quotation marks in dialogue.
Incorrect: “I want to eat chocolate every day”, Darlene said.
Correct: “I want to eat chocolate every day,” Darlene said.

Incorrect: Nina replied, “I hate chocolate”.
Correct: Nina replied, "I hate chocolate.” 

Incorrect: “No one hates chocolate”! Darlene argued.
Correct: “No one hates chocolate!” Darlene argued.

The exclamation point
Let’s go with the rule of fifteen here. Allow yourself to use one exclamation point for every fifteen times you think you should. It’s unpleasant for readers to be ambushed with too many exclamation points. Overuse disrupts reading flow. While certain instances are acceptable, remember that using them too often will lessen the impact in sentences where an exclamation point is actually useful. Text messages and social media posts? Have a field day with the exclamation point. Novels? Not so much.

Watch those apostrophes
Plural example: “Tia and Jamal asked me to visit them, so I’m headed to my friends’ house." Friends is plural, so the apostrophe goes after the S.
Singular example: “Xin asked me to visit her, so I’m headed to my friend’s house." Friend is singular, so the apostrophe goes after the D and before the S.
A few examples: very, really, extremely, always, never, quickly, softly, very, hopefully, actually, totally. Adverbs are often thought of as the -ly words. Overusing adverbs is often seen as a writing crutch. What other ways can you form your sentence to drive home a point without leaning on too many adverbs?

With adverb: “She quickly ran home.”
Alternative way to write it: “She ran home as if hellhounds were chasing her.” 

Running implies fast. The quickly in the first example isn’t adding anything to the statement. If the person in question was moving any way other than fast, the writer could have used walked, skipped, or jumped. The alternative way to write the sentence gives readers a more imaginative way to know how fast the person ran.

Adverb removal is a common edit for me. Authors often don’t realize how much they rely on adverbs, and it can be difficult for them to notice as they read through their own manuscripts. My goal is to help you realize when you use them, why you’re using them, and to see what else we can do to make your sentences stronger by removing them and revamping your word choice.
Every day and everyday
Every day means “each day.”
Example: I walk the dog every day.

Everyday is an adjective meaning “happening or using daily.”
Example: I like news stories about multiple uses for everyday household items.
They’re, their, and there
They’re is a contraction for they and are.
Example: “They’re really big Royals fans.”

Their means “belonging to or associated with the people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.”
Example: “Her comments lost their impact because she used too many exclamation points.”

There means “in, at, or to that place or position.”
Example: “Nina’s going over there to sit.”
Then and Than
Then means “at the time.” 
Examples of then:
"Dean said he’d be ready by then."
"I was in high school in 2000, and Carla lived in Jamaica then."
*If can be a helpful clue as to when to use then
Example: “If you want to go to New York, then you should go.”

Than is used when introducing a second element in comparison.
Examples of than:
“My tomato plant grew faster than Tom’s.”
“Frank’s brother is taller than their mother.”
It’s critical for a writer to choose a tense and stick with it. I’m likely to return a manuscript to an author and ask he or she to go back through it before I begin copyediting if the novel is peppered with multiple tenses.

Present tense indicates the action is happening now. 
Example: I dance in the shower every day.
Example: Erin tells me she loves books.

Past tense indicates the action has happened. 
Example: When Nina was a teenager, she danced all night long.
Example: Fred slept all day.
That and just
Do you need that or just in most cases? Probably not. I suggest doing a find and replace to see how often you use them in a manuscript. Read through those sentences again and see if their uses are critical. That and just are by far the two words I remove most often.
No. No. Don’t use literally. This trend has been growing like a weed the last few years, and it adds nothing to a sentence in about all cases … unless you’re writing about a pop star. Even then, use wisely.
Do you have a burning question about something not on the list? Contact me. 

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