While editing my WIP I came to the realization the my characters often begin to. They begin to cry. They begin to run. They begin…well you get the point. At first I laughed because it was funny. Do these guys ever get around to doing anything? Then I realized it wasn’t so funny because I was the one who did it and I had to fix it. Thank heaven for the search function. That got me thinking. So I searched for started to, able to, and seems to. (I blush at how long this took.) So now my characters run, cry, jump, eat, etc. It reads better but I’m wondering…what other problems are lurking in my WIP that I skim over because I’ve read it so many times? (And my wonderful readers have missed too?)
So here’s my question. What problems do you often see in manuscripts that are grammatically correct – yet awkward? Do you have a list of common errors that writers should search for while editing?
All of your examples fall under the category of “passive voice”—something that should rarely be used. Pretty much any verb followed by to is passive. Other indicators are verb phrases that use a form of be—such as am, are, been, is, was, were. Also look for the phrase by the or just by after the verb. CLICK HERE for a great list of passive tense verbs.
One note on passive voice: Sometimes it may be appropriate. For example, in first person dialogue. The key is to use it consciously and for a specific reason.
Other common things that I see and regularly delete or change:
- author’s favorite words (varies by author)
- too many adverbs and adjectives
- of (as in “He jumped out of the window.”)
- overused words—just, that, however, so, because, although, etc. (CLICK HERE for a great list of examples.)
- names that end in s—this is a personal thing. It’s just so visually awkward to make possessive or plural
- another personal peeve—irregular verbs that have been forced to be regular, for example, lighted. I change it back to lit.
(P.S. Everything went as expected. All is well.)