10 Simple Edits for Critique Partners

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Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising an early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in 30 days! —Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Learn more at the end of the post.

Besides looking for heavier story problems, you can look below for simple errors that crop up in your critique partners’ submissions. 

Simple Edits 

1. Then. Place a comma before “then” in sentences.

Incorrect: Elmo raised his eyebrows then smiled.

Correct: Elmo raised his eyebrows, then smiled.

2. Was going to or am going to. Shorten to “would” or “will.”

Wordy: Amy was going to hate her gift. “I’m going to buy you something else,” Elmo said.

Better: Amy would hate her gift. “I’ll buy you something else,” Elmo said.

3. So that. Can often delete “that.” No comma before “so that.”

Incorrect and Wordy: Elmo donated fifty dollars, so that Amy would think he cared.

Correct: Elmo donated fifty dollars so Amy would think he cared.

4. Already. The word is often unnecessary.

Wordy: Elmo already had the five dollars he needed. By now, Amy should have already arrived at the store.

Better: Elmo had the five dollars he needed. By now, Amy should have arrived at the store.

5. That. Can often delete “that.”

Wordy: Elmo feared that Amy liked Barry. He hoped that she’d change her mind.

Better: Elmo feared Amy liked Barry. He hoped she’d change her mind.

 

6. Just. Can often delete “just.”

Wordy: Amy turned to a group just entering the building.

Better: Amy turned to a group entering the building.

7. Suddenly. Should delete most occurrences of “suddenly.”

Wordy: Elmo calmed, then suddenly a policeman appeared.

Better: Elmo calmed, then a policeman appeared.

8. Began to or started to. Can often delete these phrases, especially when the character is not stopped.

 

image by Mampu

Wordy: When Amy began to open her mouth to speak, the bus arrived. Elmo stood and started to walk to the bus.

Better: When Amy opened her mouth to speak, the bus arrived. Elmo stood and walked to the bus.

9. Into, in, or in to. “Into” is used with actions. “In” is used to show position. “In to” is used when the “to” belongs with a verb that follows “to.”

Correct: Elmo drove to the library. With a book in his hand and planning to walk in toreturn a library book, Elmo opened the door. He stepped into the library, returned the book, then strolled into the aisle labeled Mysteries, where he stumbled into Amy.

  10. There was or wasn’tIt was or wasn’t. Rewrite sentences using “there was,” “there wasn’t,” “it was,” or “it wasn’t.”

Wordy and passive: Because there was no sign of a struggle, it was believed the perpetrator attacked her by surprise.

Better: Because authorities found no sign of a struggle, they believed the perpetrator attacked her by surprise.

What other quick fixes would you recommend to critique partners?

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I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

4 Problems with the Verb Go – Going, Going—Gone

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Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

 See the end of this post for more information.

Watch out for these four wordy expressions using the verb go. Use your search-and-find option to uncover these phrases in you story and revise the sentences.

1. “[Am, Was, Were] Going To”

Example 1

Diana didn’t know how she was going to tell Paul she’d lost her car keys.

Better:

> Diana didn’t how to tell Paul she’d lost her car keys.

image byAnnaKovalchuk

Example 2

He was going to hit a home run in the next inning.

Better:

> He would hit a home run in the next inning.

> He’d hit a home run in the next inning.

Example 3

I am going to go find Mark before it’s too late.

Possibilities:

> I’ll search for Mark before it’s too late.

Be careful. This may not mean quite the same thing as the original, which implies she’ll search until she finds Mark.

> I’ll find Mark before it’s too late.

This also may not express the original meaning. It could mean she’s sure she’ll find Mark before it’s too late.

> I’ll drive the Mustang around the city and find Mark before it’s too late.

2. “Go Get”

image by analogicus

Steve headed for the door. “I’ll go get the boat.”

Possibilities:

> Steve headed for the door. “I’ll retrieve the boat.”

For a guy who says, “go get,” retrieve sounds too formal.

> Steve headed for the door. “I’ll get the boat.”

This is less wordy and sounds like something Steve would say. It’s more important for dialogue to reflect the character’s personality than to be a stronger word.

If “go get” was written in a narrative, (He went and got the boat.) retrieve might work better. (He retrieved the boat.)

3. “Was Gone”

Example 1

Cam said his good-byes and was gone.

Better:

> Cam said his good-byes and left.

Example 2

image by LoggaWiggler

Petra’s eyelids closed, and he was gone.*

For death, “was gone” softens the event, but if you want the sentence to be less wordy and the reader to experience the harsh reality, use died.

Possibilities

> Petra’s eyelids closed, and he died.*

> Petra’s eyelids closed and he died.*

Omitting the comma on such a short sentence is acceptable and may make the death sound more immediate.

Better:

> Petra closed his eyes and died.*

I prefer this concise option.

4. “Was Going”

Example 1

Jess was going around the curve too fast.

“Was going” can work if the story is written in past tense and the writer wants the action to reflect what’s happening now.

Other Possibilities:

> Jess went around the curve too fast.

> Jess steered into the curve too fast.

> Jess approached the curve too fast.

These sentences have slightly different meanings.

Example 2

Bill was going for the rest of the supplies.

Other Possibilities:

> Bill went for the rest of the supplies.

> Bill had gone for the rest of the supplies.

> Bill left to collect the rest of the supplies.

Here “was going” is vague. Depending on the meaning, the other possibilities are better.

What other problems have you seen in writers using the verb go?

*The camel is actually asleep.

Squash These Wordy Phrases

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Try this exercise and see if you can make the example below more concise by substituting a word for wordy phrases. Have fun.

Passage With Wordy Phrases

Greg went inside of the house. He didn’t know where Alice had gone to, but the fact of the matter was that he was unsure he wanted to marry her. He’d looked for every trace of dirt from her past, but he’d found only a couple of small infringements. From all of her stories about her past, she seemed true to her word, and a lot of the gossip about her had turned out to be untrue.

Under the circumstances in which he’d met her, he wasn’t cognizant of her doing anything wrong. But with her making use of his pin number for the ATM, it was time to make a change, especially since there was still time to make things right.

Maybe he’d choose one of the less expensive private eyes to look into a period of years in her past—if the research done by the private eye could be done in plenty of time to call off the wedding.

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

He walked to two feet past the other side of the sofa, then stopped and made a decision to break things off with her.

When the doorbell rang, he strode in the direction of the door. From the window of the living room, he saw a rent-a-truck. Curious, he opened the door. Alice stood on the other side of the threshold, looking angry. He wasn’t able to figure out why she was so mad or had driven a rent-a-truck.

She handed him his ATM card. “You don’t trust me. The wedding is off.”

Wordy Phrases

See what you can do with the following phrases to make the excerpt more concise.

  • inside of
  • gone to
  • the fact of the matter
  • for every trace of
  • a couple of
  • from all of
  • true to her word
  • A lot of
  • turned out to be
  • under the circumstances in which
  • wasn’t cognizant of
  • call off
  • with her making use of
  • for the ATM
  • it was time to make
  • there was still time
  • one of the
  • look into
  • a period of years in
  • done by
  • plenty of
  • to two feet past the other side of
  • made a decision
  • things off with
  • in the direction of
  • of the
  • on the other side of
  • looking angry
  • wasn’t able to
  • figure out
  • so mad

An Improved Passage

Greg went inside the house. He didn’t know where Alice had gone, but now he was unsure he wanted to marry her. He’d combed her past for dirt, but he’d found only two small infringements. From her stories about her past, she seemed honest, and much gossip about her proved untrue.

image by peltierclem

When he’d met her, he didn’t know she’d done anything wrong. But her using his ATM pin number forced him to reconsider, especially since he had time to make things right.

Maybe he’d choose an inexpensive private eye to investigate her past—if his research could be done in time to cancel the wedding.

He walked two feet past the sofa, then stopped and decided to end their relationship.

The doorbell rang. He strode toward the door. From the living room window, he saw a rent-a-truck. Curious, he opened the door. Alice stood on the porch scowling. He couldn’t understand why she was angry or had driven a rent-a-truck.

She handed him his ATM card. “You don’t trust me. The wedding is off.”

A short exercise to reduce wordy phrases. Click to tweet.

I invite you to include your rewrite in the comments.

 

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Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.