Editing · Formatting · Writing

Writing Mistakes at the Sentence Level

I’ve noticed lately that I comment on a lot of the same issues when doing line edits, so I decided to make a short list of the common issues I spot while editing or reading. The issues below are tips to keep in mind when you tackle line edits. They are issues I spot and bring up with clients all the time and even sometimes spot them slipping past edits in published books. Keeping an eye out for the below will help strengthen your sentences.

Shaking Versus Nodding: When a character shakes their head, it means no. Nodding means yes. Too often characters shake heads to mean yes or nod no and it confuses the reader.

Repetitive Wording: If a character nods, it’s assumed they are nodding their head because what else are they going to nod? Same with shrugging. Stick to a concise nod or shrug instead of the longer and more repetitive, “She nodded her head.”

Filler Words: Most writers have words they use as crutches. Those words are often not needed, add no meaning, and can be cut. Common filler words include that, just, so, only, really, and very.

Not varying Sentence Structure Enough: This makes your sentence structure feel repetitive. Mix short sentences with long sentences. Often when I spot this issue it’s due to authors using participle or gerund phrases in each sentence. Example: Walking on the beach, she searched for shells. Dodging a sunbather, she let out a laugh. She continued her walk, ignoring the sunbather glaring at her. Spotting in incoming wave, she stopped to soak up the warm water.

Dialogue Issues:

Using names too often in speech. When talking one-on-one, people usually don’t keep saying the other person’s name every time they speak and it can make speech sound inauthentic.

Mixing dialogue from multiple characters together. Start a new paragraph when dialogue switches to a different character. When dialogue switches between characters within the same paragraph it can be confusing and make a conversation hard to follow.

Relying on adverbs in dialogue tags. Too many adverbs will weaken your writing. They are often used as dialogue tags to spoon feed the reader information. If a character is angry or polite, their word choice should reflect that change instead of simply telling us they said it politely or angrily. This often falls into the realm of telling instead of showing.


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