Self-Editing? Look for These 5 Common Problems

Editing programs such as ProWritingAid will help you catch these problems. For most of them you can use your word processor‘s Find tool to search for the problems.

Problem 1: A character is going to do an action.

Examples:

He was going to make retribution.

Better: He would make retribution.

 

“I’m going to take Cindy to the concert.”

Better: I’ll take Cindy to the concert.

 

Problem 2: A Character has to do something.

Examples:

I had to make the trip for my sanity.

Better: I needed to make the trip for my sanity.

 

“I have to make sure you’re right.”

Better: “I need to make sure you’re right.”

image by PatternPictures

For the next three problems, most of the examples are good sentences. I give alternatives to reduce the number of occurrences of an overused word in a scene. Like the photo, overused words can crowd a scene.

 

 

Problem 3: Overuse of thought, think, believe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. These can pile up in a scene.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Elle.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Elle?”

 

“I think I should go with you for your safety.”

Alternate: “I should go with you for your safety.” (I think is unnecessary.)

 

He didn’t believe her.

Alternate: She hadn’t told him the truth.

 

Problem 4: Overuse of knew and know in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue. Like thought words, these can quickly sprinkle a scene. 

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“I thought you knew Charlie.”

Alternate: “You’ve never met Charlie?”

 

“I know I’ll like your play.”

Alternate: “I’ll like your play.” (I know is unnecessary.)

 

He knew she’d betray him one day.

Alternate: He’d expected her betrayal.

 

Problem 5: Overuse of maybe in a scene’s inner thoughts and dialogue.

Ways to reduce overuse in a scene:

“Maybe she was the killer.”

Alternate: “The evidence pointed to her as the killer.”

 

“Maybe he could take her to dinner.”

Alternate: “He could take her to dinner.” (I maybe is unnecessary.)

 

Maybe she was right.

Alternate: Was she right? Possibly.

Fix these 5 common problems in a scene’s inner thoughts or dialogue. Click to tweet.

What is another common problem you’ve experienced

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

A Story for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. Today I share a short story from my book, Crumbled, Tumbled, humbled—Saved.

illustration by Greg Lahti

The (Grape)Fruit of the Spirit

 

Charles called to Marilyn in the shower. “There’s a message from yesterday on the answering machine saying the citrus is here. I’m going over to the church now to pick up our box of oranges. We, my dear, are going to have fresh orange juice this morning.”

“All right,” Marilyn called back. “I’ll have the juicer ready.”

***

Marilyn hummed as she put the coffeecake in the oven. The front door slammed. She closed the oven door and turned just in time to see Charles drop a reinforced cardboard carton on the kitchen’s hardwood floor.

He growled. “Grapefruit.”

“Where are the oranges?”

“There aren’t any. I was the last person to pick up fruit, and those were all that were left. Either the order got messed up or someone else has our oranges.”

Marilyn looked at the large box. “I guess we’ll have to give them to someone.”

“Nobody likes grapefruit, Marilyn. You might as well brush your teeth with mint toothpaste and immediately eat a lemon. Nobody in their right mind likes grapefruit.” He turned and went to the den to console himself in his newspaper, mumbling something about target practice.

Marilyn opened the box and studied the large yellow fruit. There must be someone who liked grapefruit. Maybe her two daughters-in-law …

The telephone rang. It was Cathy from the prayer chain. “Lisa’s husband left her yesterday.”

“He can’t,” Marilyn cried. “She’s pregnant with their second baby.”

“Well, he did, and it doesn’t look like much hope for the marriage. He went off to Alaska, or maybe it was Maine … Wherever, she’s very depressed. Pray for peace and comfort for her and a changed heart for him.”

“I’ll pass it on to Trudy and then start praying. Good-bye.”

Marilyn’s heart remained heavy for Lisa while she prayed for her and put breakfast on the table. She lugged the carton of grapefruit to the utility room before she called Charles to the table. It was going to be a busy Saturday, she didn’t need Charles disgruntled about grapefruit all day.

***

That night Marilyn jerked awake. The first two images that came to her mind were Lisa’s face and the carton of grapefruit. She suspected God woke her to pray for Lisa, who might be having a sleepless, tearful night. She prayed for Lisa, but she had never been so distracted in prayer before. Images of the grapefruit kept leaping into her mind. An idea struck her brain.

Marilyn eased off the bed and shut herself in the walk-in closet. She donned her white sweatsuit with the embossed gold angel on the front of the sweatshirt. Then she pulled on white socks and tennis shoes and crept out of the closet and from the bedroom.

***

Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. Charles eyes popped open. Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. What was that sound? And where was Marilyn? Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. Charles pulled on his bathrobe and went downstairs. Light emitted from the den. He crossed the foyer and stood in the den doorway. His wife had finally lost her mind. Marilyn sat in a sea of grapefruit on the sofa. She reached down and grasped another from the box at her feet. She picked up his staple gun and plugged the grapefruit on each side. Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. He noticed there were lengths of yarn involved.

“What on earth are you doing?” he said.

“Oh, Charles, am I glad to see you. Would you get the ladder from the shed and tie it on top of my Buick?” She grabbed an old quilt with huge watermelon slices appliqued to it and extended it toward him. “Here, you can use this to protect the top of the car.”

“Never mind. I don’t want to know what you’re doing.” He took the quilt and turned to get his shoes.

***

Marilyn strained to see the houses in the moonlight. Was this the right block or was it the next one? She’d only been to Lisa’s house once for a circle meeting.

***

Kirk rose from bed to go to the bathroom. On the way back to bed, something caught his eye outside the window.

“What is it, Kirk?” Janice asked from the bed. “Why are you peering through the slats in the blinds?”

“There’s a Buick Park Avenue moving slowly down the street with a ladder on top of it. You’d better call the police.”

“Can you see the license plate?”

“They won’t need a license number. It’s the only Buick Park Avenue with a ladder on top of a quilt with great big watermelon slices on it. Tell them it’s on Oak Grove going west.”

Janice called the police. She and Kirk went back to bed.

***

Marilyn turned the corner to go around the block. She was almost positive it was the house with the lovely maple tree smack-dab in the middle of the front yard. She backed around the corner and to the house with the maple tree.

***

Young Officer Tootey spotted a large car parked in the street a couple of blocks ahead. He killed his headlights. He approached slowly and cautiously and was about to call for backup when he saw the middle-aged woman in the moonlight.

If she was a thief, she was the dumbest one he’d ever seen, all decked out in white. She was perched precariously on the next to the top rung of the ladder, which was wobbling on uneven ground. She could be drunk, or she could be an escapee from the Westford Psychiatric Center, but he didn’t think the situation looked dangerous enough to wake up the whole neighborhood. He parked across the street and down two houses from the Buick. He eased himself out of the cruiser, quietly closed the door, and unsnapped the cover on his gun.

“Good evening, ma’am.”

Marilyn gave a start and fought the air to regain her balance. “Oh, Officer, you gave me a fright.”

“Do you want to tell me what you’re doing, ma’am?”

“Well, I woke up and started praying for Lisa—she’s the woman who lives here—and God gave me a terrific idea.”

He couldn’t take a chance. She’d said God told her to do something. “Get down from the ladder, put your hands on the tree, and spread your legs.”

“Oh, dear. God didn’t tell me to do something bad. I know it sounds strange. Charles didn’t even want to know what I was doing. I’m just hanging these grapefruit on this maple tree. I’m not a vandal, I assure you.” She came down the ladder.

“God told you to do that?”

“Well, He didn’t say, ‘Marilyn, I want you to go tie grapefruit to Lisa’s maple tree,’ if that’s what you mean. But He wanted me to cheer her up.”

“I’m going to have to fill out a report and ask you to leave, ma’am. 

The woman’s shoulders slumped. “But, Officer, her husband left her yesterday—well, technically, because it’s after midnight, it was the day before yesterday. She’s so depressed. These grapefruit hanging in her maple tree might be just the trick to snap her out of it. Please, Officer.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. You have to leave.”

Marilyn let out a heavy sigh. “Well then, do you like grapefruit?”

“No, can’t stand them.”

“That’s the problem. Charles and I don’t like them either. Neither do our children or their wives or their children. What could be the harm in leaving them for Lisa. God reminded me while I was praying for Lisa that I saw her eat a grapefruit slice out of a fruit cup at a women’s luncheon once.”

“I don’t believe I’m listening to this at two o’clock in the morning.”

“Please, Officer, please.”

Young Officer Tootey looked left then right. “We’re going to have to be really quick and really quiet. And, you’re going to have to hand them up to me. I saw how you maneuver the ladder.

***

Now Kirk was thirsty. He never made it to the bathroom. “Janice, wake up. You’ve got to see this.”

Janice sleepily joined Kirk at the window. Her eyes opened wide and her hand went to her mouth. “What’s that policeman doing on that ladder? Is that Lisa with the policeman?”

“No, it’s not Lisa. The mysterious woman in white is handing up some kind of balls to the policeman, and he’s tying them to the branches of Lisa’s maple tree. I better call the police again.”

Janice put a hand on Kirk’s arm to restrain him. “No, don’t. Call it woman’s intuition, but I think what’s going on down there is something good. Lisa needs something good, Kirk.”

***

“This’s the last grapefruit.” Marilyn whispered. “That branch over there doesn’t have one hanging on it.”

Officer Tootey stretched to reach the branch Marilyn indicated.

“Don’t you think you better move the ladder?” Marilyn whispered just as young Officer Tootey lost his balance. He thudded to the ground.

“Oh, Officer,” Marilyn cried, running to the young man’s side.

“Shhh! My pride is wounded more than my ankle.”

“You are an angel, Officer.” Marilyn helped him to his feet. “I know God sent you tonight. Are you a believer?”

“I might be more willing to believe if all Christians were more like you.” He limped over to the ladder and closed it.

“How’s that?” Marilyn asked.

“You went to great lengths to bring joy into someone’s life.”

“You did too, Officer.”

“My motives were different. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of doing the paperwork. You walk the talk.”

Officer Tootey spread the watermelon quilt on the top of the Buick and secured the ladder to it. He opened the door for Marilyn.

She got in and pushed the button to buzz down the window. “Before you go, would you pray with me, Officer?”

“Uh … I suppose so.” He glanced around then bowed his head.

“Dear Father, please let Lisa feel your great love for her in her time of sorrow. And please keep this kind young man safe in your care each night. In Jesus’ name I ask these things. Amen.”

***

Lisa stirred to distant laughter. She smiled. Then she remembered Jack was gone. The bowling ball fell in her stomach, crowding the baby. How could she face the day? Missy would wake up too soon, hungry. Maybe she could crawl the length of the hallway to the refrigerator in the kitchen, toss Missy a slice of American cheese, and crawl back to bed.

She was such a failure. How hard was it to make someone happy? Could anybody make anybody happy? Jack certainly wasn’t making her happy. Her mom and dad only picked at her. Now she knew what it meant that only God is able to provide comfort, peace, and joy. She pulled her knees up to her chest to ease the hurt while she prayed to God to heal her heart.

There was that laughter again. What was going on outside? Lisa pulled herself out of bed and put on her bathrobe. She shuffled her heavy feet to the living room and peeped around the curtain. She couldn’t help herself. She laughed. Were those grapefruit? She loved grapefruit. Look at her neighbors. They were gathering, laughing, and pointing at her maple tree that had grown grapefruit overnight.

She felt lousy now, but there was hope that someday she would be able to join the living again. God would help her.

Was that Marilyn and Charles among her neighbors? Uh-oh, Marilyn had a big plate of her famous sweet rolls. And Janice, always able to throw something together in a pinch, was coming across the street with Kirk, carrying a mound of ham biscuits that could feed an army. She went to the door and opened it. Everyone clapped and cheered.

“If you’re going to come over here and wake me up,” Lisa said, “the least you can do is harvest my grapefruit while I put on a pot of coffee.” She felt almost as cheerful as she’d tried to sound.

***

Marilyn beamed at Lisa’s graciousness. Then through the crowd, she caught a glimpse of a little red sports car moving slowly past them. She turned toward the car. The driver was the angel officer from the night before. She smiled and nodded her head. He smiled back at her, held up a hand briefly, and drove off.

Charles took Marilyn’s elbow and ushered her to Lisa’s front door. “You know, Marilyn,” he whispered in her ear, “you’re lucky that someone didn’t call the police on you. I might have been bailing you out of jail this morning instead of eating your yummy sweet rolls.”

“Charles, you should know better. I’m not lucky. I’m blessed.”

A contemporary story of hope and praise for Thanksgiving. Click to tweet.

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

Don’t Make Your Characters Do the Impossible

image by StockSnap

I could enjoy the book I’m reading more if the characters would stop being contortionists. Every time they do the impossible, they pull me out of the story. This happened so often that I turned to see who published the book. I was surprised. It was a small but reputable traditional publisher.

This book has shown me how important it is for me, the writer, to learn to recognize and fix writing problems. It also warned me to be careful in choosing the editors I hire. All editors are human, and I expect them to miss a problem occasionally. I appreciate editors who know the writing problems to look for and who edit thoroughly.

Here are examples of impossible simultaneous actions. (My research said examples such as these contain participial phrases that suggest the impossible.)

Impossible Simultaneous Actions

 

1.

image by Victoria_Borodinova

Incorrect: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she walked away. (Is she walking bent over or duckwalking and dragging her suitcase on the floor before she let’s go?)

Correct: She set her suitcase on the floor and walked away. (And has the valid meaning and then or that the latter action is chronologically sequential to the first.)

Something that could happen: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she looked around for the man who’d pick it up after she walked away.

 

2.

Incorrect: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt. (If he’s pulling up the handkerchief with his hand, what is he wiping the stain with? His elbow?)

Correct: He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

Something that could happen: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he smelled the basil in the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

 

3.

image by katyalison

Incorrect: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she wrapped it around her neck. (How can she tie a scarf around her neck while she’s reaching behind her for said scarf?)

Correct: She reached behind her for her scarf and then (or just and) wrapped it around her neck. (My research showed that, opposed to the opinions of some, She reached behind her for her scarf, then tied it around her neck, isn’t wrong.)

Something that could happen: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she remembered she’d left her scarf on the train.

 

4.

Incorrect: Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her cell. (If she’s reaching in, how can she pull something out?)

Correct: She reached into her bag and pulled out her cell.

Something that could happen: Reaching into her bag, she pressed her lips together.

Participial phrases that suggest your character is a contortionist.  Click to tweet.

Do you have a favorite use of a participial phrase that shows an action that’s impossible?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?