Category Archives: Editing and proofreading

Revising: Show Don’t Tell—But Not Always!

show_20and_20tellShow Don’t Tell. It’s the Genesis of the writing process, the tenet learned in grade school. Immerse your readers in a stew of their senses: see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch. Amen.

But not so fast. It’s like that verse in Ecclesiastes 3 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Show don’t tell is no exception.

You can think of writing like applying makeup. Putting on just enough enhances one’s appearance, but too much can make you look like a waxy mold of a stringy, over-cooked ham. Good writers know that a manuscript isn’t finished until there is just the right balance of show and tell.

But how do you decide?

When revising your work, first read each paragraph and look for telling places where:

• You explain how a character feels,
• You use an abstract description,
• You tell about a conversation.

Girl With Computer Screen of Internal OrgansThen decide if these narrative passages need to be spiced up with some showing.

• Is your character’s feeling a strong one? If so, then describe it by showing how the character looks and acts.
• Is an abstract description enough? If not, then add some juicy images and raw details.
• Is it sufficient to tell about a conversation? If a conversation is important, add dialogue to further develop your characters and move the story along.

Next, put your revising gear in reverse and check each paragraph for showing places. Look for the Extreme 3Ds:

• Excessive drama. Remember the makeup analogy? Use just enough drama to enhance. Too much will pull readers away from the story.
• Excessive dialogue. When characters talk, their conversations should be realistic. Too much dialogue can mean that characters are telling too much of the story.
• Excessive description. Have you showed more than you have to? Sometimes, writers use too many words to describe. Look for wordy descriptions, and replace them with fewer and well-chosen words.

Writing is an art form. Clichés like show don’t tell have their place, but they don’t command the writing and revising process. Great writers know when dramatization is needed and in what measure. Do you?


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Filed under descriptive writing, Editing and proofreading, Uncategorized, Writing craft

5 Ways to Keep Your Editor Happy—Advice for First-Time Authors

[Friends: I’m taking a short break from the blog to work on a writing project. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this repost from 2014.] 


Your manuscript has been accepted for publication.
Yay! You’ve been assigned an editor.
But, now what?

I’ve worked both as an editor at a publishing house and as a freelance writer, so I understand how the author/editor relationship works. Here are five great tips for forming a productive partnership with your editor.

1. Accept Constructive Criticisms. An editor’s job is to edit. You might think that your manuscript is perfect exactly as you wrote it. But your editor views it from a different perspective. Her aim is to make your book as marketable as possible, and she knows the market better than you do. She has edited perhaps hundreds of books and has a keen sense of how changes will make your writing even better. When you receive a marked-up manuscript, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer, it means that your editor is doing her job. You aren’t in this alone anymore. Now, you are part of a team.

2. Ask Questions. If there is something you don’t understand, ask. Publishing for first-time authors is a learning experience with unfamiliar language and procedures. Editors are expert multi-taskers, and yours is probably juggling many manuscripts in various stages. He can forget that you are new to the publishing world and that you might need guidance. So, don’t be shy about asking.



3. Respect Deadlines. The publishing industry is deadline driven. Everything works toward getting your book to the printer on time. Printing is scheduled months in advance. If a print date is missed and presses stand idle, it costs the printer and the publisher and also plays with other print deadlines. One of your jobs is to help your editor stay on schedule. When she gives you a due date, you need to respect it.



4. Be Professional. As soon as you sell your manuscript, you are not only an author but also a businessperson. As part of the editorial team you should keep good records. Save all communications (emails, texts, and notes from telephone conversations with your editor). Before making the editorial changes he suggests, refer again to those communications to refresh your memory. In my work with editors, I have found that sometimes we both forget a small, random detail that we discussed. Catching those items early can avoid another deadline-crunching edit.

5. Go The Extra Mile. I understand how busy editors are, so I try to help by doing a few extras like beating my deadlines by a week, or so, and giving my manuscript an extra read for mistakes in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. When I write nonfiction, I use a spreadsheet to keep track of references, important information, and questions. I give the spreadsheet to my editor with my completed manuscript. It can be as simples as this:


Going that extra mile helps keep things running smoothly, and that makes my editor, and me, happy.

A good author/editor relationship is key to a successful book. Be sure to let your editors know how much you appreciate them. Thank them for their efforts.

[Cartoon credit: Richard Taylor, “The New Yorker”]



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Filed under Editing and proofreading, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, working with editors, Writer's responsibility, Writing Tips

The Most Important Content Editing Rule for Authors

Content editing means looking for factual errors, contradictions, inconsistencies and discrepancies in plot, character and dialogue. Why do authors dread content editing? They are too immersed in their story to edit with an open mind.

The most important content editing rule for authors:
Give your work a rest;
then edit with your mind focused 
on your story’s relationship with the reader.

• Take each chapter one paragraph at a time. Search for obvious errors.

• Then focus on each sentence. Look for awkward sentences that might confuse readers and commas that change the intended meaning of a sentence or cause readers to pause where you don’t want them to.

• Check for similes and metaphors. Are they necessary? Do they make sense? Overuse distracts readers and misuse makes you look amateurish. He produced globules of liquid lava (The heat made him sweat.) He ambled forward on boney supports. (He limped.)

• Think about characters and dialog. Is it clear who is speaking? Does the dialog fit your character’s personality and historical time? How does the character react? Is the reaction appropriate? Too strong? Too quick? Necessary? Consider dialect—regional differences in speech. Water fountain/bubbler. Shopping cart/buggy. (The Dictionary of American Regional English is a helpful multi-volume resource for writers, although pricey. Look for a used set on or find it at your public library.)

• Zero in on technology. Do appliances, communication devices and electronics fit your story’s historical period? If set in the future would the technology have changed from present day? Choose generic terms instead of trending ones. Smart phone/phone. He made a copy on his printer and mailed it/he made a copy and sent it.

• If your book is one of a series, consider whether you have shared enough back story in the first chapters so new readers won’t be confused. Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the Cat Who mystery series always began her books with a review of her main characters. She was a master at segueing any necessary back story into her content. (If you decide to check out her work, I suggest any book from the middle of her series. The last several books were ghostwritten and not well done.)

• Finally, if your novel is with a publisher trust your editor. She, or he, is reading your work with fresh eyes. Trust that your editor’s suggestions are good ones, and be open to change.


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Filed under Editing and proofreading, Tools for Writers