Posts Tagged ‘Copy editing’

Ilana’s Little List of Superfluous Words

November 11, 2013

Hallelujah! I’m almost at the end of my latest round of novel revisions.

And once I’m done with the substantive revisions, I’m going to try something new — a Microsoft Word “search” for superfluous words.

Noodling  around in the manuscript, I’ve noticed that there are certain words that add little or no value. Sometimes they are “hedge” words that undercut what I’m saying. Other times they state the obvious. Or they are just a flabby cliche.


I don’t notice these words when I’m writing a first draft; they roll easily off my pen. They seem so natural that I don’t notice them on reading the completed manuscript, either. Thus the computer search.

Prime example: suddenly. 

I use a lot of suddenlys!  My characters look up suddenly. They put down their forks suddenly. They hurl chairs suddenly.

(Have you ever seen a chair hurled in a non-sudden manner? Now that would be an adverb worth using: “He hurled the chair gradually.”)

So I’m starting a list of superfluous words that should be weeded out. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • suddenly
  • somewhat, some
  • sort of, kind of
  • little
  • simply
  • just

Here are a few examples from different sections of my manuscript:

“What does Marta have to do with this?” her mother asked with some bewilderment.

There were more stars in just one small corner of the sky than you could see over all of Manhattan.

I felt suddenly uneasy. 

I jerked my head around, suddenly paranoid, and shoved the boa back inside the bag.  (Well, maybe I should keep that one. I’ll think about it.)

Talking with my lawyer friend Beth yesterday, she described routinely excising certain words when editing her colleagues’ briefs. In her case, they are legal jargon like heretofore.

I suspect every genre of writing – every profession – needs its own unique blacklist of superfluous words. Every writer should probably have her or his personal list too: The flabby words that slip into my draft may be different from the ones that slip into yours.

How about you? Any words that routinely roll off your pen that should be rolled off to the landfill?

In praise of copy editors

May 30, 2011

There are basic services that are such a common part of our modern American lives that we don’t realize what a miracle they are — sewer systems, clean running water, electricity.

And copy editing.

I’ve been working on a freelance project this week helping a friend self-publish a memoir by his late father. It’s an enjoyable assignment, both because it’s an interesting story (refugee from Nazi Germany who ended up in the Philippines under Japanese occupation), and because it moves me down the road in my education about self-publishing.

But before I even get to the self-publishing part, there’s the editing part. I’m working my way through the manuscript, smoothing out narrative flow and awkward sentences and fixing grammatical errors and typos.

And realizing how much I take copy editors for granted.

At newspapers and books, there are generally two stages of editing. First comes the substantive editing — when the assigning editor reads through the piece and points out gaps, ramblings, lead paragraphs that don’t work, unsubstantiated claims, and other broad problems. Then comes copy editing, a completely different job that involves a detailed eye for things like grammar, spelling, and inconsistencies.

I’ve always been a clean writer who doesn’t make a lot of grammatical or spelling errors. You’ve probably noticed that from reading this blog. (Or maybe you haven’t. People don’t notice grammar and spelling when they’re correct, only when they’re wrong.)

There are lots of grammatical rules — like the proper use of “that” versus “which” — that I know without even stopping to think. (Rules that I know, not which I know!)

But even so, there are lots that I don’t know. And I’ve never had to learn them, because I’ve always had copy editors to back me up.

  • What’s the rule about the next-to-last item in a string of nouns, adjectives, or verbs — comma or no comma? Different media have different rules; don’t sweat it; the copy editor will do whatever is right.
  • Do I use numerals or words for writing about seventy-six trombones? 101 dalmatians? Ten thousand men of Harvard? Not to worry; the copy editor will fix it if I’m wrong.
  • Do FDR and JFK get periods after each of their letters? What about USA? CIA? LSD? (Uh oh, I’m about to burst into that song from Hair. And come to think of it, should Hair be italicized or placed in quotation marks?)

Well, suddenly there’s no copy editor watching my back. I need to figure this stuff out. So I went to the library and borrowed a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is 921 pages long but a lot less intuitive and user-friendly than I’d like it to be.

I can find the answers. But it’s nowhere near as efficient as working with a pro copy editor, who knows all of this off the top of her/his head.

Copy editing is a different skill set from writing. I can do it — but like electricity, sewage and water, it sure is nice when there are trained professionals to take care of it for me.