Tag Archives: book edit

HUNTING THE “WORD OF THE DAY”

Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/
Photo by Matt Hampel, Flickr creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/a2community/2953289727/

Whenever I start to edit one of my novels, I’m always interested to see what my word of the day will be. These are those go-to words and phrases that I seem to use over and over in a writing session. Usually, it’s a small word like “just,” “up,” or “down”; modifiers that don’t really mean anything and can be redundant. (If one is looking at the sky, how else would it be besides up?)

Though the word of the day comes up every time I write a chunk of novel, it can also creep into writing other pieces longer than a couple of pages. Since becoming aware of my “word of the day” habit after working with a critique partner, I notice others using the crutch, too. For example, I took an international marketing class in my MBA program and, in addition to a handful of typos in the textbook, I noticed the author was enamored with the word ubiquitous. Even worse than the typical “word of the day” use, this word sticks out even more because it’s not a word frequently used in conversation.

I’m not sure of the reason people fall back on the “word of the day.” I think I just get it in my head or I get tired. But the fact is, it happens, and should be dealt with in editing because it can make your writing appear redundant or simply boring.

And if you can’t catch them in your own writing (like me), have someone else read your piece and mark repeated words appearing close together. (Brackets work well.) If the words create redundancy such as “just” or “up,” delete them. If they are important, try to think of a different word to use. For example, sometimes you don’t need to repeat the noun subject of a sentence and can use “it” in place of one.

Pay attention to these “words of the day”; it can help keep your writing fresh and interesting for your readers.

KEEP IT BETWEEN THE LINES – PARALLEL PRONOUNS, the basics

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/5849712695/
Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/5849712695/

One of the major grammar mistakes I see when line editing is matching plural and singular sentence subjects with their respective plural and singular pronouns. These are easy mistakes to make but they are also easy mistakes to correct.

If a subject within a sentence is singular, meaning the sentence is talking only about what one person, place, or thing did, the pronoun must be singular as well. If the subject is gender neutral, use it. If the subject is male, use he or his; if female, use she or her; if it has a gender but you don’t know or it doesn’t matter if the subject is male or female, use she or he or his or her. Granted, writing he or she all of the time can make the piece feel cluttered and reading tedious so it is tempting to use they or their. Don’t do it. If you are writing he or she too many times, make the subject plural so you can use they, their, or them, etc. properly.

As mentioned, perhaps the easiest way to get around the whole he or she dilemma is to make your sentence’s subject plural and use the more easily-read they or its derivative. Sometimes, however, it won’t be so clear cut. Perhaps the subject to which your pronoun refers isn’t contained in the same sentence. The rule is still the same: if the subject to which you are referring is plural, use the they pronoun. For example, from Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters on page 20 with underlining to hopefully make it clearer which pronouns go with which subjects:

“Within a few hours, I knew the whole story. Aunt Shari had taken Emily for a walk in her stroller to the park in her neighborhood. When they left to walk back home, Aunt Shari Buckled Emily into her stroller. When they reached the intersection a block away from the park, Aunt Shari pushed the street light button and waited for the walk signal. The moment she stepped into the intersection, an unlicensed sixteen-year-old girl riding with her friends swerved around the cars stopped at the red light and struck Emily’s stroller.” (“They” refers to Aunt Shari and Emily.)

It can also get tricky when your sentence has multiple subjects or contains some descriptive words between the subject and verb. The rule is still the same: match the verb to the subject about which you are writing. They, them, and their also applies to inanimate objects or places as well as gender-neutral subjects, which also can make them easier to deal with. But in the interest of interest, change your work up at times. Find a synonym for your subject or use the he or she (properly) occasionally.

Of course, if you are talking about only yourself, use I. If you are including friends in your sentence talking about yourself, use the collective we. The good news is if you are talking directly to someone else (second person), you is proper whether you are addressing one person or a whole crowd.

Even if you know this rule about singular or plural subjects and pronouns, it is easy to slip up when you are cranking out a draft, making it that much more important when it comes time for line editing so read your work carefully and think through your sentences to ensure your grammar is correct.