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Pen IN Hand
January, 2008

Peggy Bechko

Six Editing Hints For Writers
Watch what you write
By  Peggy Bechko

As we cruise through the writing world,  we are assailed almost continuously by dos and don’ts and lists of forbidden words. Seems to be a flavour of the week. My advice? Don’t go crazy every time you hear of a new trend or a new word to be avoided or any advice we can find so abundent these days.

However, here’s a list of a few things you can keep an eye out for. Things that just might smooth your writing, make it flow a bit better, and more effectively draw your reader in. At the same time take heart. Don’t worry if there are a lot of the so-called forbidden words scattered throughout your work. After all there are plenty of the classics and lots of current best sellers that are peppered with them. Consider theses helps, not commands and write from your gut and your heart. After all, nothing is perfect and we probably wouldn’t like it if it was!

  1. One well over-used word is “very.”  There are times it’s necessary, but those are very rare indeed. Just leave it out or reword. For example, instead of, “The detective, a very tall man, stood close to the accused,” how about, “The detective loomed over the accused.”  Or search your thesaurus and find another descriptive term that fits your style better.

  2. Shed clichés like a duck sheds water. Unless your character is one who spouts them or there is another compelling reason for you to use one, remember they’re just boring and worn. Their time is past. Come up with something new and fresh of your own.

  3. The words “up” and “down” seem to be greatly overused and can be generally eliminated. For example, instead of, “Elizabeth put her book down on the bedside table,”  try, “Elizabeth set her book on the bedside table with gentle respect.”  Or, instead of, “The drought dried up the earth to the point of cracking,” eliminate “up,” and we might get, “The drought dried the earth into deep fissures.”  Just think about it.

  4. You might consider eliminating phrases like “John could hear,” or “John could feel.” This is where showing your reader something is much stronger than telling. Instead of, “John could hear the train in the distance,” try making it more direct. Bring in the senses, and put your reader right there. For example, “John heard the distant rumble of the train.” Or, “The sound of the approaching train reverberated in John’s head.” Instead of, “Jane could see the vultures circling in search of their next meal,” try, “The vultures floated in widening circles in search of their next meal.”

  5. Verbs ending in “ing” can get to be a bit trying. That’s not to say you need to eliminate them altogether, you can sprinkle them in occasionally, in fact I doubt you could eliminate them altogether. But watch out for excess. For example, “Joe was watching the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band,” is better as, “Joe watched the parade while tapping his feet to the rhythm of the band.”  Or “Joe tapped his feet to the rhythm of the band as the parade moved on.”  Experiment, turn things around a bit and try to stifle the “ing” urge just a little.

  6. Don’t repeat words with great frequency. Scan your page. Does any one word jump out at you? Does it pepper the page or reappear frequently throughout a chapter? Grab your thesaurus and have at it or visit

There are more, but I figure this is enough for one go-round. Keep even these few things in mind during a rewrite, and see how you can tighten your prose.
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Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (eBook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series.

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