By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Thanks Janice and AMAZON KDP.

This week’s Refresher Friday takes an edited look at some copy editing tips and how to spot some subtle goofs in your final draft. Enjoy!

I’ve been lucky to have worked with some really top-notch copy editors over at HarperCollins. Their attention to detail and the variety of things they catch is quite impressive, and I learned something every time they proofed one of my books. Which of course meant my next book was cleaner and took less editing (or at least that’s the goal).

As you do the final polish run on your own novels, keep an eye out for these very common editing goofs

Tense Issues

Writing always feels immediate to me because it’s in my head and pouring onto the page. So tenses can get a little wonky without me realizing it. As a result, sometimes those pesky “hads” don’t always make it into a sentence that really needs them.

Watch for places where the text refers to something that has already happened, but perhaps left off a necessary “had.”
His greed had turned to war, and he crushed all of us under his boot, racing to get even more power.
Spot the goof? “he crushed” should be “he’d crushed,” because the narrator is talking about something that happened in the past, not something happening right now. Doing a search for every “had” to ensure the verb tense is aligned correctly is too much to expect, but it’s not a bad idea to check the passages you know are referring to past events.

Parallel Series

When we talk about things in a series, the things all need to match. When they don’t, it can create some really weird sentences that don’t make sense.
He had thousands of acres, hundreds of farmhands, and some merchants and traders had established shops there like a small village.
See the awkwardness of the last bit? If we broke this into individual sentences, we’d get:

He had thousands of acres.

He had hundreds of farmhands.

He had some merchants and traders had established shops there like a small village.

Ew, that doesn’t work at all. We need to break it up a bit and get that last part out of the series of what “he” had.
He had thousands of acres and hundreds of farmhands, and some merchants and traders had established shops there like a small village.
Now it’s two separate ideas–this dude has a lot of land and workers, and a village has appeared. When you spot a passage in the text with a series, pause to see if they’re parallel or out of whack.

Ambiguous Pronouns

“It” tends to be the most common offender here, but ambiguity can happen with any pronoun. Since we as the author know what noun we’re referring to, the unclear sentence reads just fine to us. But there might be other nouns that the pronoun actually refers to structurally.
How could you stop someone who could heal their own wounds, push it into their pynvium armor, and keep on fighting?
What does the “it” here refer to? Based on that sentence, it seems like “wounds” right? But the narrator isn’t talking about that. She’s talking about pushing pain in to the armor, which isn’t mentioned.

Check those its.

(Here’s more on ambiguous pronouns)

Not Quite the Right Word

We see this a lot with eyes and heads doing things eyes and heads can’t do. We visualize something, and describe it, but what we really mean isn’t what made it to the page.
The horse nibbled grass, tearing it out of the ground with quick twists of its teeth.
Teeth don’t exactly twist, do they? You probably know what I meant, but the visual is more like some freak of nature with a mouth that rotates. It’s really the horse’s head that twists.

Pay attention to body parts and make sure they can actually do what you say they’re doing.


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