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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Search and Destroy ... er ... Find

Now a literary agent at WordServe Literary, Barbara J. Scott has been a book editor for 13+ years and has more than 30 years of publishing experience, ranging from newspapers and magazines to books. The fiction line at Abingdon Press exceeded all sales expectations, and Barbara has been credited for kicking off a well-rounded series of quality, highly-reviewed novels. Among her many published works, Barbara is the co-author of best-selling novel Sedona Storm, as well as the sequel Secrets of the Gathering Darkness, both published by Thomas. Nelson. 

Over the years I’ve harped at authors never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their mixed metaphors.
Word travels in publishing circles about whether you’re a professional or you’ve made your living on the backs of good editors. You don’t want to be known as a hack writer.
Hopefully, the electronic tool known as search and find will make your self-editing chore more enjoyable.
1. Passive voice (one of my pet peeves): Passive voice is created by using a form of be, such as am, is, are, was, were, being, be, or been and followed by the past participle of the main verb, or gerunds comprised of a present participle (ending in “ing”) that functions as a noun. Learn more in Hacker’s Rules for Writers. Search for these words and recast your sentences to make them more active. Examples:
Passive: He was jumping over the cliff into the river below to escape.
Active: He jumped over the cliff into the river below to escape.
2. Qualifiers: These words clutter up your writing. Sometimes I think writers use them to boost their word counts. Examples: begin, start, started to, almost, decided to, planned to, a little bit, almost, etc. Examples:
With qualifier: Mary felt a little bit out of place among the nouveau riche.
Better: Mary felt out of place among the nouveau riche.
3. Weasel Words: These words are easy to spot. You can drop them and no one will notice. My high school English teacher told me that if you could replace the word very with the word damn, you didn’t need it. Other examples: really, well, so, a lot of, anyway, just, oh, suddenly, immediately, kind of, extremely, etc. I’m sure you can come up with your favorites.
With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well, let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”
Better: She stood and said, “Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way.”
4.Adverbs: I don’t hate adverbs, but they “usually” are unnecessary, especially in dialogue tags. Your prose should communicate a character’s state of mind without using a tag line such as the example below. Use search and find to look for an ly followed by a space or a period.
With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she said ferociously. (Really?)
Better: “I’ll kill him,” she said.
5. Extraneous thats or thens: Use the global search-and-find feature for the word that. If you can understand the sentence without it, you don’t need it. You notice I didn’t write, then you don’t need it. Both of these words are over used.
Writing is rewriting, and rewriting involves self-editing. It’s your job to turn in the cleanest manuscript possible to your agent or editor. Use the search-and-find tool to speed up the process.
Can you think of other ways you can employ the search-and-find feature in Word to edit your work?


  1. Thanks for this post, Ane and Barbara!

    After sitting in Barbara's workshop at the 2010 ACFW Conference, I took all her advice to heart on my last manuscript and searched and destroyed. It was a little scary how much I destroyed. Good scary. ;)

  2. But if you're using Deep POV, which should be flavored with the character's voice, then some of these (i.e. using "very" or "really" or "a little bit") might actually be necessary depending on the character's personality, level of education, age, etc. Right? A ten-year-old is going to say, "That was really exciting." (Or "totally exciting" or whatever other commonly-used qualifier normal people use when speaking.) Also, if dialogue is going to sound natural, I don't understand why "just stay out of his way" is bad, since that's probably how most people would say it ... Are there different "rules" for Deep POV?

    1. Stacy, dialogue is a bit different. If that's what the youth would say, then use it. This is more for narration than dialogue. :)

  3. The ol' search and destroy button is handy dandy when a writer hits a great sale on a word and overuses it.


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