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Most Common Editing Problems

March 26, 2013
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As I slog through my backlog of editing duties, I see a common thread. In fact, I can easily name two of the most common problems that can be easily addressed.

Commas
Commas are a huge problem for authors, I think. Many times, authors use commas where they shouldn’t, and take them away from areas they should use them. Comma splices have to be one of the easiest errors to catch and fix. Does your sentence have two subjects? Yes? Then you have a comma splice.

Bob went to the market, we thought there was time.

There are two subjects there, two complete sentences. This can be repaired three different ways.

1. Bob went to the market. We thought there was time.

2. Bob went to the market; we thought there was time.

3. We thought there was time, so Bob went to the market.

I know many authors are allergic to the semicolon, but it’s a legitimate way to correct a comma splice.

The other area that I see an unbelievable amount of is the comma missing from introductory adverbial words, phrases, and clauses. I know what you’re saying. ‘What is an introductory adverbial word, phrase, or clause?’

Adverbial words: Suddenly, Eventually, Occasionally, Carefully, Finally, Then, Next, First, etc.

Adverbial phrases: With a flourish, Taking a breath, Running down the hall, etc.

Adverbial clauses: Because I could not stop for death, Even though he was a giant monster, etc.

These are sentence modifiers. They describe the sentence as a whole and add information. And they are always followed by a comma. What confuses people, I think, is the fact that, if you take those and move them farther into the sentence, there aren’t commas.

Example A: Occasionally, I go to the store.

Example B: I occasionally go the store.

So, when you start a sentence with these modifiers, be sure to follow them with a comma. If you don’t want the comma, shift the word or phrase into a different spot in the sentence.

Overuse of Participle Phrases
This… is becoming a serious problem. I see it happening more and more, and I’m not sure why. What is a participle phrase?

Example: John walked into the bathroom, taking off his pants, combing his hair, talking to Mary on his cell, kicking a camel in the balls.

Every -ing phrase there is a participle phrase. They have a purpose. That purpose is to indicate simultaneous action. Problem is, writers use them to denote actions that cannot physically performed simultaneously. You cannot walk into a bathroom while taking off your pants AND combing your hair AND speaking on the cellphone WHILE AT THE SAME TIME kicking a camel in the balls. It’s not physically possible. Don’t string them together unless your character is actually performing all the action at the same time.

If you’re trying to say these events happened in a sequence, you need -ed verbs, not -ing ones.

Example: John walked into the bathroom, took off his pants, combed his hair, talked to Mary on his cell, and kicked a camel in the balls.

That works. That’s a sequence of events John performed. An odd sequence, yes, but it was physically possible without John being the bastard child of Kali and Jackie Chan. 🙂

Now, even if you’re using the participle phrases correctly, you need to be sure you’re also using them sparingly. Having them every other paragraph is overkill. Vary your writing. It makes for a much easier and nicer read for your audience.

And… I think that’s it. 🙂 Questions are welcome!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2013 9:16 am

    Will you marry me?

  2. March 26, 2013 1:24 pm

    You know I will! 😉

  3. March 26, 2013 1:41 pm

    I keep thinking I do these correctly… but I probably leave some of those in before I catch them myself. With the commas I often keep second guessing myself, which I shouldn’t, cause I tend to take the correct ones out and leave the faulty ones in *head desk*

    Though I hope I don’t have many bastard kids of Kali and Jackie Chan in my stories LOL

    Great post 🙂

  4. March 26, 2013 3:29 pm

    Please note, not every house follows the same rules for commas. We authors kind of sprinkle them in like pepper and hope the editor adds or deletes according to the fancy of the place we’re submitting..

    (And I think I could manage everything but the camel-kicking, all at once)

  5. March 26, 2013 5:46 pm

    LOL. I love that you used the ‘kicking a camel in the balls’ example. That’s what happens when S.L. discusses her blog ideas with her room-mates before posting, y’all. 😄

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