One of the reasons to hire an editor, even if you have run an automated spelling and grammar checker over your document, is to get that all-important second pair of eyes looking over your work. As a second reader, the editor will pick up if you have overused a particular word and they’ll see, where a spellchecker won’t, if you are using the word incorrectly.
Most of us have a particular “tic”, a preferred word that we use frequently. It might be different depending on whether we’re having a conversation (or even who we’re talking to), or whether we’re writing an email or a book or blog post. It may even be different every time. But it’s the sort of thing we are unlikely to pick up ourselves. And unless someone tells us, we may never realise that we’re repeatedly using a certain word incorrectly.
Unlike Microsoft Word, your human editor will call you out on attempts to have your action hero bring his fighter jet in for a daredevil landing right inside a wardrobe (ie: on a clothes hanger) when it would be far more advisable to pull in to an aircraft-sized hangar.
If every one of your characters is described as having glowing eyes and skin, and you’re not writing a supernatural or sci-fi thriller, your editor may suggest alternative ways to highlight their features.
When a scene depicts someone in a suit with a separate bathroom, it’s your editor, not spellcheck, who will advise either adding an “e” to clarify that you meant “suite” or adding detail to explain how the catheter arrangement works with the pinstripe.
Often it is the way a character speaks or conducts him- or herself that gives away the tic. In an attempt to avoid overusing “said”, many writers will use action to keep things moving. This is an effective technique, so long as it is not overdone and as long as those tics are kept in check. Again, the editor is there to ensure that a character who “snorts” in response to every comment doesn’t come across as having a drug habit (unless he’s meant to) or that others don’t “shrug” their way through every exchange and seem disinterested.
Punctuation can reveal similar “tics” and it’s only during that close editorial read that it becomes obvious every second sentence ends with an exclamation point or ellipsis that lends the story a jumpy or disjointed flow. Your editor can help smooth these out so that the dramatic effect isn’t lost and the text stays even.
Of course there are ways to try and catch these things yourself. Letting your work rest before you read over it allows your brain to “reboot” and you become your own “fresh eyes”. And becoming friends with your dictionary (and thesaurus) also helps, although yes, that seems obvious. But editors use them all the time.* Even the ones who are themselves “walking dictionaries” use actual dictionaries. Probably even more than other people because they are paranoid about getting caught out. After all, if you’re going to spend your life nitpicking other people’s words you want to make sure you get it right!**
But when all’s said and done, there’s nothing like that second pair of eyes to pick up the things you don’t know you’ve missed.
Do you have any writing tics? Spotted any anywhere? Let us know below!
* Apart from the editors I once met who refused to use dictionaries on the grounds that if a word needed to be looked up then a different word should be chosen. As a word nerd I am still troubled by this years later.
** Seriously, there is no sound like the tone of glee in someone’s voice when they believe they have found an error in an editor’s work. This is possibly understandable. But still…