Editing with Miss Edith

Miss EdithGreetings from sun-drenched California. I hope you’ve had a good week so far with a nice blend of writing, work and recreation. I edited several chapters for one of my former students, but the highlight was my daughter’s visit. Does my heart good to see her. Susan and I spent a day shopping, and I came home with a stack of romances and plenty of chocolate to nibble as I savor the stories.

After I read my student’s manuscript, I jotted down a few items to share with you. But before we dig into the editing tips for the day, I’ve got something even more appealing.

Susan loves to bake as much as I do, so while she was here, we cranked up the air conditioner and headed to the kitchen. The result is a mouthwatering selection of cheesecakes, which I’m delighted to offer you today. Can’t you just smell them? I’ve got four mouth-watering choices: Banana Cream, Chocolate Chip Walnut, Strawberry Swirl and Fudge Marble cheesecake.

Cheesecake sampler

Which can I get for you? And would you like a cup of coffee or a tall glass of sweet tea with your slice?

There, now that we’ve tamed the taste buds, it’s time for my tips. Susan, bless her, took pity on you. She said I overloaded you last time, so today I’m only going to point out three things to look for when you’re editing your manuscript. I know you’ve got better things to do than spend time with me, although I do so enjoy our little visits. Your comments have made my week.
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1) Clearing up Confusing Conjunctions

For the most part, my students have a fine understanding of conjunctions. Susan reminded me of an old ditty from the days when she watched cartoons on Saturday morning. She loved Schoolhouse Rock. I’m sure some of you can remember it. One of her favorite little episodes was Conjunction Junction. Why, she tells me anyone can see it these days on YouTube. She found the link for me in case you want to take a stroll down Memory Lane.

The song says the job of a conjunction is “hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” I used to wish they’d added a bit more to the lesson and taught their young viewers that conjunctions join two independent clauses to form compound sentences. If they’d also told students to put a comma after the word preceding the conjunction, they would have done English teachers like me a big favor.

But I’m not here to talk about the comma in a compound sentence, especially since I covered that topic in Monday’s post. What I want to do is point out two words I often see used as conjunctions that aren’t: then and yet. They’re adverbs, and I don’t have to tell you that an adverb’s job is not the same as that of a conjunction, do I? You know that. However, some of my students insisted upon using then and yet as if they were conjunctions. Here are two examples:

Luke dashed into the blazing inferno then he rushed out a minute later with the wailing infant clutched in his arms.

Bethany took her precious baby from Luke’s arms yet she couldn’t look into the soot-covered face of the man who’d broken her heart all those years ago.

What do you see is missing in those two sentences?

Right. A comma after the first independent clause. Keli told me you were sharp. But there’s something else missing: a conjunction. In both cases, a simple and is all that’s needed to render the sentence grammatically correct and keep from pulling nit-picky readers like old Miss Edith out of your story.

Luke dashed into the blazing inferno, and then he rushed out with the wailing infant clutched in his arms.

Bethany took her precious baby from Luke’s arms, and yet she couldn’t look into the soot-covered face of the man who’d broken her heart all those years ago.

Now, I realize there are published books out there in which then and yet are used as conjunctions. All I can say is that you will stand out in a positive way if you use correct grammar and make sure these two adverbs are preceded by a conjunction.
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2) And Speaking of Then

I see then used quite often in pieces I edit and books I read. However, many times the word isn’t needed. Take the sentence about Luke for instance. If the writer were to remove the word then, she’d have a sentence that still makes sense but is stronger.

Luke dashed into the blazing inferno, and he rushed out a minute later with the wailing infant clutched in his arms.

That’s a fine compound sentence, one sure to make any English teacher smile and put away her blue pencil. The sequence of events is clear without the use of the word then. The reader knows Luke went into the burning before he came out with the baby. Since I see then used a great deal in the manuscripts I read, I want you to be aware that it’s often an avoidable repetition.

And because I want to help in any way I can and don’t know when to stop, according to my students, I’ll give you another point to consider. The compound sentence above is correct and clear. However, consider how much more smoothly it would flow if the writer were to remove one word, he, and the comma that would no longer be needed, as seen in the following:

Luke dashed into the blazing inferno and rushed out a minute later with the wailing infant clutched in his arms.

Read both sentences aloud, and I think you’ll hear that the second sounds better. It also speeds things up, which is good to do in an action scene.

Susan would be giving me her, “Mom, haven’t you said enough?” look about now, so I’ll move on to my last tip of the day.
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3) Beware of the Word As

As is a tricky word. It indicates two things are taking place simultaneously and/or continuously. I had a particular student who loved to begin a sentence with as in order to provide variety in sentence structure. While that’s an admirable goal, one has to be sure the two actions can be performed at the same time. Consider the following:

As Derrick raced his cherry red Corvette to the vet’s office, he gazed into Mia’s eyes, drawing strength from her warm smile.

As Mia cradled the wounded German shepherd in her arms, she reached out a hand to squeeze Derrick’s in a gesture of support.

What’s wrong with these two images, aside from the fact that they’re rather lame excuses for examples? (Now you see why I leave creating great stories to talented writers like you. :-))

In the first sentence, Derrick is destined to wreck that fancy car of his. He can’t drive down the road while keeping his eyes on Mia the whole time, unless he’s operating a futuristic vehicle set on autopilot.

In the second example, Mia appears to have three arms. Two are holding the big dog while, with the hand of the third, she’s reaching out to Derrick. Unless you’re writing a paranormal where the heroine has additional appendages, three arms is one too many.

So, how would I suggest a student remedy these little slip ups? Following are suggestions I gave my pupils:

Derrick raced his cherry red Corvette to the vet’s office, glanced at Mia and returned his attention to the road, buoyed by the warm smile she’d given him.

Mia cradled the wounded German shepherd in her lap, wrapped one arm around the glassy-eyed dog, and reached out a hand to squeeze Derrick’s in a gesture of support.
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Well, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve earned an A for attentiveness. I’ve enjoyed my time with you and thank Keli for granting me the opportunity to address a subject dear to my heart.

I chose the winner of my first drawing, as you’ll see on Monday’s post. I’ve got a real treat for those of you who leave a comment on this post, so be sure to take a gander at the drawing information below.

I wish you all the best as you craft your stories and edit them. Toodle-oo!

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Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win

Miss Edith’s Drawing

My drawing will take place July 24th.

The winner will receive a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, a book I feel is a must-have on every writer’s bookshelf.

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Sel-Editing for Fiction Writers.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on this blog post by July 24th and enter your email address when prompted. (Keli doesn’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On July 25th, I’ll post the winner’s name right here.

Congratulations to Terisa Wilcox, winner of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

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Keli’s Regular Drawing

My next drawing will take place July 31st. The winner will receive a $10 Borders gift card.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by July 31st and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On August 1st, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.

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You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and July 31st. Be sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On August 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your debut novel in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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10 Responses to Editing with Miss Edith

  1. Sherrinda says:

    Great tips, Miss Edith! I have found lots of “as” phrases as I edit and I’ve really tried to reword those! It’s not easy!

  2. Miss Edith says:

    Sherrinda, my dear. You are so faithful to stop by. I recognize your name from your earlier comments, and because you won the book I gave away on my prior post. With Keli taking her little break, I daresay you haven’t heard the news. Congratulations! I trust she’ll get the Guide to Punctuation on its way to you shortly.

    As is such a little word, but I’ve seen it creep into many a manuscript with deleterious effects. The most memorable example I heard came from a talented author named John Olson. He shared a good bad example at a conference I once attended. I shall paraphrase, so any misrepresentation is mine: “She kept one hand on the doorknob as she crossed the room.” John had us all laughing as we visualized someone with ever-lengthening arms like Elastigirl in that movie my grandson watched at least 50 times.

  3. Sherrinda says:

    I won??? Wow! I am so excited! It will really help me out during this revision phase I’m in!!! And what a funny bad example. So far, I haven’t found any that bad in my MS! Whew! 🙂
    Thank you so much!!!!!

  4. Keli Gwyn says:

    Sherrinda, I popped by the blog to make sure no comments had gone to moderation, and what do I see? You’ve won a book. Congrats!

    Miss E has asked me to send it to you since I have your contact info, which I’m happy to do.

    I hope your revision is going well. As you know, I’m busy with my rewrite/revision too. I like watching my story improve, although there are those humbling “What was I thinking when I wrote that?” moments.

    And thanks again, Miss Edith, for pitching in to help me out. However, I see you’re spoiling the visitors with all your treats. Four kinds of cheesecake! Where do you find the time? And coffee on my blog? You know I’m an oddball who can’t stand the stuff. I’ll take a glass of iced tea though.

  5. Anne Barton says:

    Miss Edith, I wish I’d had you as my English teacher! Your explanations and examples are so clear. WHY was I conjugating Latin verbs when I could have been learning these practical tips? 🙂

    Did you have your students diagram sentences? My eighth grade teacher did, and I must admit . . . I LOVED it!

    Thanks for the cheesecake–strawberry for me, please! Enjoy your weekend!

  6. Miss Edith says:

    Anne, I’m happy to hear you enjoyed diagramming sentences. I heard plenty of moans and groans when I had my students do so. Perhaps if I’d offered cheesecake back then, the lessons would have gone down easier. 🙂

  7. Wonderful tips! I tend to overuse the word ‘as’ and your tips will be a great help.

  8. Miss Edith says:

    Welcome, Terisa, and thanks for visiting, my dear.

    You’re not alone in your liberal use of “as.” I often have to mark that word when I edit for my talented writer friends, even those who have published multiple books.

    What I noticed during my many years of teaching is that pesky little words, such as “as,” tend to sneak into a first draft when one’s internal editor is–and should be–turned off. However, they often jump out when one dons one’s editor hat and reads the manuscript with a eye for catching such things.

    Now, may I offer you some shortcake? I’m partial to chocolate, so I highly recommend that Fudge Marble variety.

  9. I never turn down chocolate!

  10. Miss Edith says:

    Dear ladies, do forgive me. I think the heat here in California has addled my brain. I was supposed to give away a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers yesterday and plumb forgot. Since I wouldn’t want anyone thinking I’m one egg shy of a dozen, I’ll take care of that now.

    My winner is Terisa Wilcox. Congratulations! I’ll turn the blog back over to Keli now and ask her to contact you.

    I thank each of you who took time out of your busy life to stop by over the past few days. I had a marvelous time visiting with you and hope to do so again some time. Until then, I wish you the best on your writing–and editing. Toodle-oo!

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