Toolbox Tuesday: Editing Advice, Part 1

*Adapted from when I blogged for The Sleepless Writers

These are some of my pet peeves that are easily avoidable if you know what they are.

Overuse of semicolons, poor usage of semicolons, improper semicolon usages, etc.
Especially in dialogue, it’s very rare for someone to talk normally with semicolons. People don’t say “I went to the store; I got bread.” They’d probably say something more along the lines of “I went to the store and got bread” or “I went to the store to get bread.” Having a semicolon here flows unnaturally and can be reworked in order to make the dialogue sound more realistic.
The truth is, very few people actually know how to use semicolons properly, and this is probably due to the fact that they don't show up frequently. Even avid readers don’t come across semicolons often. In first person especially, semicolons can sound very weird in narration. For third person novels, semicolons can appear more frequently without seeming out of place. Use semicolons if you want to, but make sure you're using them properly, first off, and also make sure that it's appropriate for the voice you're speaking with. 

Characters describing themselves
When you run your hand through your hair, do you think to yourself, “I run my hand through my black hair”? No. So why do characters get to do that?
The above isn't so terrible, but I personally don’t think it’s necessary for readers to immediately know a main character’s description because you’re seeing the world through the MC’s eyes anyway.  That, however, is just a personal opinion. What I just absolutely cannot stand is something like the following paragraph:
“I have blond hair. I have blue eyes. I am 5’4 and I weigh 120 pounds. I have two brothers and a dog.”
Yada yada yada. Please do not do that. Readers will get bored. They don’t care to read all of that information stacked together. The same thing goes for when another character is introduced. Especially if the MC already knows the characters, you should feed readers information a bit at a time. As characters talk, maybe their eyes meet. That’s a good time to mention a character’s eyes. Maybe a character plays with their hair. Good time to mention hair color.
For those who do want their main character’s description worked into narration, there are ways to go around this. Typically I use other characters to describe the main character. Some character makes a comment about the MC’s eyes. If the MC’s hair is messy, someone else can remark that it’s a black or brown or blond mess of a bird’s nest or something similar. Be creative when describing characters. (Try not to use a character standing in front of a mirror if possible because it’s done a lot, but it’s not the end of the world if this really happens to fit into the story.)

Terrible beginnings
There are two that I see overused and that I highly dislike.
Terrible Beginning 1: Character moves to a new town
Countless books have started off like this. Characters moving to new towns wouldn’t be so annoying if it wasn’t so overdone and if main characters weren’t so whiny about moving. Can this beginning be done well? Yes. Is it? Not often. My recommendation is to try to avoid this beginning but, if it’s necessary, edit it so it’s not like every other story where a character moves.
Terrible Beginning 2: Character wakes up and takes 2000 words to get out of the house. (Basically, completely useless details.)
Beginnings of stories are very important. They set the mood and the scene. If a character takes too long getting out of bed, dressing, showering, only to go to school, I’m probably going to put the book down. Please start the story where it actually begins. It’s okay to have a story start when the character is already at school. Save the condensed version of the wake up story for later in the book for after I’m hopefully already marathoning through it.

Nondescriptive descriptions
“She gave me a casual look.”
“She was pretty.”
“He was hot.”
What do these statements tell me? Really, nothing. What does the “casual look” look like? Often times everyone’s casual look is just a little different. “She was pretty” doesn’t tell me what the girl looks like, her facial expression, if she’s standing straight or slumping, any of that. It just gives a really general statement. Same with “He was hot.” Besides, people’s general perception of beauty and hotness are quite different. And there’s more to people than just how supposedly pretty or hot they are.

If any of the above is in your writing
Don’t panic. I make myself mad with my own pet peeves sometimes. It’s understandable that sometimes some of the above is unavoidable. However, a piece of writing with everything mentioned above in it could probably use a little work. Control + F is your friend. Use it. Look for repeated words, words that don’t really describe, whatever you think you should look for. Mechanics are not the most important thing in writing, but they are certainly useful to helping readers understand what you’re trying to say.

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