By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
One trick I use to jump start my editor's brain, is to search for words I know are frequently found in trouble spots. Red flag words. I can clean up those areas and get into the groove of editing, and that puts me in the right mindset to tackle the larger revisions. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail in this post (it's a round-up after all), but there are links to posts that go into more detail with more examples and ways to fix these rough spots.
Telling Red Flags
These are the words that are often found where you're telling instead of showing. Three common types are the motivational tell, the emotional tell. and the descriptive tell.
Motivational tells explain motives, frequently before the character has even made the action. To and when are repeat offenders here.
Bob ran to the shed to get the shotgun.(Here's more on motivational tells)
When Bob ran to the shed for the shotgun, the zombie was already there.
Emotional tells explain feelings. In and with take center stage here.
Bob screamed in fear.Descriptive tells explain actions. These are trickier because they often feel just fine until you notice that you're telling the reader what they should be able to figure out by how the character is acting. Offenders include realize, could see, the sound of, as.
Sally sighed with relief.
Jane staggered out of the room clutching her side, and Bob realized she'd been hurt.(Here's more on mental signposts and telling red flags)
Bob could see from the way Jane was bleeding that she'd hurt herself.
The sound of a sharp bang echoed across the valley.
As Bob climbed on the roof, the zombie grabbed his foot.
Placeholder Red Flags
Placeholder words are those that are missed opportunities to flesh out your scene. Adverbs are the number-one offender here. When you see an adverb, there's a good chance that you can improve the section but using details that show what that adverb means.
Bob shook his fist angrily.(Here's more on placeholder words)
Jane moved nervously across the field.
Bloated Sentence Red Flags
Bloated sentences are those that often read just fine (if they didn't we'd have spotted them already) but can be tightened up to improve the overall novel. Prepositions are often your problem here.
Bob crept through the mud and around to the back of the shed.(Here's more on prepositions)
Jane ran to the back of the room.
Passive Red Flags
These are hose sentences that feel flat and lifeless, because the subject of the sentence is being acted upon, not doing the acting. Most often it's due to passive "to be" verbs.
Bob was tripped by the severed leg.(Here's more on passive writing)
Sally was being chased from the angry mob.
Obviously, not every instance of these words is going to be trouble, but they are often found in places that often need a little tweaking.
What do you do to get yourself in the mood to edit?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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