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Bob Nailor

That As•Ing•Ly ~ Editing Tricks

You've just finished the G.A.N – Great American Novel – and are ready to have it professionally edited. You've checked it over at least four or possibly twelve times. All the glaring errors are missing, spelling is correct and the punctuation is perfect, as is the dialog.

You send your baby off. Now, you patiently wait for the package to come back, and it does. Eagerly you rip open the envelope and look to see what glowing accolades the editor has for your work.

Horrors! This can't be!

There are hundreds... no, thousands of red marks all over the pages. Every page is riddled with small, red "X" marks, red words, red scribble lines. Red is everywhere!

Tears well up. You swoon into your chair and gently pat your chest, hoping your heart beat will return to normal. Finally you brave the beast and place your sacred, yet recently desecrated, tome on the desk and slowly read the editor's notes and begin to scan the corrections made.

Interesting terminology you think.

"That" is a fluff word. You read your sentence aloud, with and without that word. "I received a note that you wanted to see me." You read the next sentence where the word is crossed out. "He knew perfectly well that I could hear his thoughts." Slowly your head nods in understanding approval. "That" is a fluff word. You glance through the remainder of the page; seven times. The next page reveals six, followed by another 8 on page 3. Counting the first ten pages you find "that" scratched out over fifty times. Your mind goes into overdrive as it calculates an average. Two hundred and forty three pages times five... it equals... you gasp at the shock! Over twelve hundred words lost in this novel.

Panic twists your stomach and you flinch at the thought. When you flipped through the pages, there were some with a large, red "X" on them. That could be hundreds of more words lost. You gulp a glass of water to quench the sudden dryness in your throat and then take deep slow breaths and slowly count to ten.

Your eyes notice the next correction; a crossed out 'as if' in the middle of a sentence. "Alone in each of our separate locations, it would appear as if we were talking to the trees."

There is no 'as if' in the scene described. You were talking to the trees from an observer's viewpoint. If somebody were to see you talking, alone, perhaps facing a tree, there is no reason for an 'as if' in the sentence. WYSIWYG. That's right... What You See Is What You Get.

You move to the next 'as' correction. "Rynlon needed to be as courteous, however relevant the action was." Again, a superfluous word added. You note there are three 'as' corrections on this page and do some quick mental math. Another almost possible thousand words lost.

The next correction you notice is a group of circled words. First is 'Struggling' with a line to 'Holding,' lined connected to 'Chancing,' line connected to 'Knowing,' line connected to 'Seeing,' line connected to 'Going' finally connected to 'Holding.' You see the note in the margin with a line to the connected words. "This is what I refer to as the 'ing' syndrome. These seven sentences all begin with an 'ing' word and becomes quite monotonous reading. The sentences usually start with three or four words followed by a comma and then some action which can always made into a separate line. "Turning the page, I saw Betty enter the room." Now exactly what is true here? You can only see Betty when you turn the page? Would you have seen Betty if you hadn't turned the page? Was Betty part of the page and that is why you saw her? The fix? Delete the first three words and comma. Unfortunately, it is rather bland, isn't it? So learn to write better. "When I finished reading the page and began to turn it, I looked up and noticed Betty walk into the library." Originally, you had nine words. Delete three? Down to six. Ah, but re-write and now you have twenty-one words and a better structured sentence with more body and detail.

Again you nod your head with approval and slide to the next correction: adverbial dialog. "I wish he would notice me," she said longingly." You follow the line to another side note which says: If you show us she is mooning over him, you don't need to use an adverbial modifier. 'She followed him with her eyes while he walked across the room; she sighed. "I wish he would notice me," she said.' A good author shows, not tells.

You notice the number of adverbial errors and realize more lost words, but reluctantly note you have the potential to increase word count in the showing of the story.

If you are thinking the above is only for the G.A.N. you're wrong, it's not. It also applies to the short stories and articles you write. Publishers are looking for tight, well written pieces. It doesn't mean just a good plot, it means tight, well written exposition. Let me show you a secret about the bottom line. Using the 'that' error from above, let's assume a few details.

Scenario: A short story of 9,000 words = 30 pages X 5 'that' per page = 150 superfluous words

Usually higher payments indicate a better known market and therefore a kudos for your byline. An article sold to "Boy's Life" is more impressive than "Bob's Online Gazette" to your next prospective publisher.

So, in conclusion, when you finally realize that as•ing•ly can make a difference not only in a tighter, well written novel but also in a better, tighter short story or article, you will suddenly find a larger, well deserved payment. You're the writer; you decide.

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John B. Rosenman
Good article, Bob. It's more than just a writing tip. I suspect [that] you must have looked over the shoulder of my Content Editor. "That" and "as if" are two of my many problems.

Elyse Salpeter
This is a fantastic article, as all your writing tips are. I've done nearly all of the faux pas above and they are truly cringe-worthy. Really appreciate your tips and ideas.

That adrdesses several of my concerns actually.