has as much to do with finding the best word as to cutting the clutter. A good story, whether fictional or non-fictional, is often shorter in length than a poor one. This is why the first rule of Editing is brevity: less is more. If there’s one word that can replace what you just said in two or three, use it, because your readers have a better chance to understand the overall meaning without getting lost in redundancies.
Adverbs and Adjectives
The rule of thumb of all good writing states that you should cut adverbs to a minimum and that one adjective is often better than two. This doesn’t mean that a story/essay with no adverbs or adjectives is a masterpiece. On the contrary, adverbs and adjectives enrich your descriptions and help us picture the image you had inside your head while writing.
But keep in mind that every adverb and adjective draws attention to itself. This means that if you add too many, we’ll be thinking about how the person looked like and felt, rather than what she did next – your story/main message. I usually write them at will in my first draft and cut more than half in my editing. You’ll discover that by doing so your story/essay doesn’t lose anything crucial and reads more quickly (this should be your goal).
Another important asset of Editing, if you are good at it, is spotting lose fragments that contradict what you previously wrote. Yes, you’ll find contradiction can populate your first draft as often as repetition, and they are both readership killers.
Repetition happens when the writer’s still gathering his thoughts while writing. It’s only a plus when used sparingly and with the intent of reinforcing a crucial fact or feeling. Therefore, it’s common use in poetry. In fiction, it expresses insecurity through a stream of consciousness of a character or narrator. In all other cases I don’t recommend it; it will seem as if you didn’t had enough consideration for your audience to spare us from the loop.
If your sentences contradict one another it’s even worst: you are at risk of sounding obtuse and your readership will find no reason to trust you.
There are more tips on good Editing, but I find it easier to quote a text in desperate need of a face-lift and go through some of the issues I just mentioned.
*Sajib’s 15 years old and lives in Bangladesh. He aspires to work as a journalist to write professionally in english. Next, you’ll find the first half of Sajib’s latest post, in italic-black. My paragraphs are the edited versions, in gray, as I tried to make sense of Sajib’s words. This is a tribute to his progress as a self-taught english writer. It should be read as a motivation to carry on and improve and not as a demeaning act on my part. Feel free to comment on my editions:
This girl, the best friend of mine, was unhappy for past few days. Her relationship with the guy wasn’t going good. Suddenly she broke up the relationship and she seemed very strict in her decision. There was a strong reason for her to do so. But within a day, she managed to get things back to normal.
A girl I know, who happens to be my best friend, was unhappy for the past few days. She had a relationship with this guy and it wasn’t going good. Suddenly, she broke it up and seemed strict in her decision. She had a strong reason. Nonetheless, within a day, they got back together.
– notice how the text is more welcoming when we introduce the girl with more care;
– repeated words like ‘relationship’ and ‘she’ and ‘very’ were cut without lost of meaning (‘strict’ is already harsh);
– shorter sentences stand for a better reading ‘There was a strong reason for her to do so ‘ improves to ‘She had a strong reason.’
And the following day, the guy broke up.
The following day, the guy broke it up.
– ‘and’ isn’t necessary and delays the thought;
– the guy broke what up? A dish? The relationship! (ergo: it)
She called me twice that afternoon. I was at lunch and my handset was at my computer table. When I saw her missed calls, I called her back. She received, and tried to talk normally. I could understand that something was wrong. But before I could figure out what it was, she started to cry. And seriously, it was impossible for me to stop her.
She called me twice that afternoon. I was at lunch and my handset was on my computer table. When I saw the missed calls, I called her back. She tried to sound casual but I sensed something was wrong. Before I could figure it out, she started to cry. And let me assure you: it was impossible to calm her down.
– ‘my handset was at my computer table ‘ : ‘at’ stands for ‘inside or near’ while ‘on’ is commonly used as ‘over/on-top-of’ (although it has other uses as well);
– cut the clutter: repeated words (‘her’), adverbs (‘normally’), redundancies – (‘she received’). Trust your reader’s intelligence: if they are talking on the phone it’s because she picked up the call. Also, ‘received’ isn’t used in this context.;
– brevity = clarity: ‘I could understand that something was wrong ‘ = ‘I sensed something was wrong ‘ (cut ‘the’, ‘this’ and ‘that’ whenever possible);
– the two last sentences are confusing, long and artificial: the speech is always bumping into comas, periods or fragments, so I smoothed it all up into one simple sentence that’s fresher (diverse words) and easier to read without as many ‘I’ and ‘she’. Think about what you want to convey and cut to the chase. What did he want to accomplish? Just stop her from crying? What expression sums what he was trying to do and what he accomplished in the end? ‘calm her down ‘
I always live kind of alone. I don’t have so many friends so I don’t get to talk much. No girl (and boy) had ever called me and cried that way before her. She is my best friend, that’s why she called me to share the sorrow at that very moment. As I wasn’t used to be in such situation, I had no much word to say, console her and stop her from crying. Instead, I just waited for her to get normal while softly asking her not to cry. My view was: I should let her cry. What I’ve experienced so far was crying makes your mind free and lessens the depression or sudden shock.
I’ve always been a loner. I don’t have many friends so don’t talk much. No girl (or boy) had ever called me and cried that way before. But she’s my best friend and, in that moment, it made sense to choose me as a listener. New to these situations, I hadn’t much to say, but still managed to soothe and ease away her cry. I waited. I reckoned I should let her cry. From what I’ve experienced so far, crying sets your mind free and lessens depression or shock. After a while, I asked her not to cry.
– all underlined words/sentences were cut out without lost of meaning;
– this paragraph is a mess, as the narrator struggles to translate his bangla thoughts into english and misses the fact that he’s spiralling in confusion and bad grammar. If you feel like you’re losing grips with your text, take a breather and think about what you’re trying to say through the simplest way possible;
– there were a lot of contractions here, especially because the author didn’t organize his thoughts. At one point the narrator’s waiting, but then he’s not waiting because he is asking her not to cry; but then again he must be waiting because he just wrote that he believes crying is good, that he should let the girl cry… But hadn’t he just asked her not to cry? The edited version corrected this by pushing this action to the bottom of the paragraph.
– the text was enriched with new words like ‘listener’, ‘soothe’, ‘ease’ and ‘reckoned’, expanding on the narrator’s vocabulary and making him look sharper;
– you should cut down words ending in ‘ing’ (gerunds) or ‘ly’ (adverbs).
When she was fine, she told me that the guy had broken up the relationship with her, and she was just unable to live without him. First, I had nothing to tell. Because to me, at that moment, it sounded stupid. She had broken up before that day. The reason was that her boyfriend addressed her in some very bad manner. And she was very strict that she wasn’t going back to the relationship. But when the next time she talked to the guy, she said sorry. Let me tell you in details why she’d do that.
When she recovered, she said the guy had broken up with her and that she couldn’t live without him. At first, I had nothing to say; it just sounded stupid. She was the one who broke it off before. Apparently, her boyfriend had addressed her in a despicable manner and she firmly decided never to go back with him. But when they talked again, she said sorry. Let me tell you why she did it.
– here’s a good example on how 2 or more words can easily be cut down to one: notice underlined fragments;
– there are also words being replaced or added in, to correct bad grammar;
– some sentences were transformed completely for clarity;
– the double past (‘had addressed’) instead of simple past (‘addressed’), is crucial to indicate that this action (the boy’s bad manners) was a past before-the-past. It reinforces the order of actions chronologically. The boy was rude, before the actions we were just reading about (which are already in simple past); before the girl calmed down, before she cried and before the relationship broke.