In today's blog, Carin Siegfried, an independent editor in Charlotte, NC, will begin answering the question, "What are some common editing problems?" Since she has much to share (and apparently the writing community makes many mistakes!) two more blogs will follow with additional editorial issues. This material comes from her presentation to my Fiction Writing class at CPCC.
- Overuse of italics (and all caps) for emphasis. Italics really ought to be used sparingly if at all. Your language should be enough to convey the tone without resorting to those crutches. And italics can be extra confusing as you do need them when you use them for the titles of magazines and books, for foreign language words and phrases, or to clarify something magical. If you can lose italics and not lose the intent, then lose the italics.
- Overuse of ellipses and dashes. They also get distracting when they are overused. Use them when necessary to convey tone and urgency, but they lose their effectiveness if they are diluted.
- Colloquial speech/slang. It can also be distracting and unnecessary. Accents often seem to come and go – it’s very hard to stay consistent. You also run the risk of misusing words or phrases if they aren’t natural to use – such as when a Yankee tries to use “y’all” for a Southerner, they often use it completely wrong (such as when speaking to a single person).
- Anachronisms. Keep in mind the era you’re writing about, be careful not to inject in 2012 things from your own youth, such as a love of Star Trek, or answering machines. And don’t cheat and set your story in the 1990s or 1980s. You should always set your story now, unless you have a compelling reason for putting it in the past (and “because it’s easy” isn’t a compelling reason.)
- POV. Be very careful. For instance, if your book is told in first-person or limited third-person (which means the readers only know what your main character knows) you can never tell us what another character is thinking or feeling. You can't change the point of view in the middle! Omniscient third-person is very tricky and probably should only be attempted by masters, such as Larry McMurtry’s use of it in Lonesome Dove.
- Reduce adverb use. This is a current bugaboo in the industry, I think largely thanks to Stephen King’s fantastic On Writing. I, however, disagree that they should all be hunted down and killed, as I find adverbs quite useful, but one should be careful not to over rely on them.
Click here for the first blog in this series in which Carin shared the different types of editing.