I debated writing this at all. You can find a lot of apps out there that will help you deal with minor issues instead of doing it all yourself. Look into Grammarly and AutoCrit. I think even Google Docs has a grammar option. I don’t think an app is going to beat a human reader at spotting some errors though, at least not for a while yet, so critique is still an important part of the process.
Micro edits are where I spend most of my editing time. There’s a lot to say here, but I’m planning on breaking that down and covering specific topics in other posts, like the one I did about adverbs a while back. Today is just a general overview.
It’s more than just spelling mistakes
Although checking for spelling and grammar mistakes (aka proofreading) is a part of micro editing, there’s more to it than that. Micro edits take you down to the individual sentences and words that make up your story. If the macro level is plot and tension, the micro level is atmosphere and emotion. It actually does affect your story on a macro level, too; if your prose is tending toward purple and you spend too much time describing things that just don’t matter, you will kill your tension and ruin your pacing.
Rather than tell you to do these things in a specific order, I’m going to give you a list of what I like to look for, and you can address them in whatever order you please.
These are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Think there vs their (or they’re). Hear and here. You’re and your. Dual and duel. Proofreading software doesn’t always catch these, so you’ve got to rely on a human reader to spot these mistakes for you.
Adverbs and other garbage words
You’d be surprised how much redundant words can puff up somebody’s word count. I’ve heard of writers who reduced their word count by tens of thousands when they cut out adverbs and other unnecessary words. I think the apps that I mentioned up above will flag a lot of these for you.
I wrote about adverbs before, so check that out if you haven’t already. Other words to look out for: that, just, even, or anything that’s next to another word that means the same thing.
I once did a critique for someone who insisted on writing entire paragraphs of sentences that were all saying the same thing but with slightly different words. And then they argued about it and said people wouldn’t understand it was important otherwise. You know what, though? Readers aren’t stupid, and writers need to have more faith in their audience. Pick one sentence. Get rid of the other four.
Sentence Length and Type
This sounds simple but can be a big problem. Some writers write lots of simple sentences in a row. It makes paragraphs sound choppy. They don’t flow well. Eventually it starts to feel repetitive and boring. (See what I’m doing here?)
Writing needs variety if it’s going to flow. Some of that variety comes from your word choice, and some of it comes from using different kinds of sentences. Short sentences can be emphatic. Long sentences help you relay complex ideas and information to your readers, but be careful about putting too many long sentences together without something to break them up; that can also become boring over time. (See what I did there?)
I know I mentioned it in the subheading, but I’m not going to go over all of the types of sentences today. This isn’t a grammar blog. If you’re interested in learning about sentence structure, here’s a great resource. When you’re doing a critique, if a writer’s sentences don’t blend and flow, and they feel choppy or heavy, point it out to them. If you’re seeing a lot of long sentences, you might also indicate where you think they could break those up.
This can be a difficult one. Word choice plays a huge factor in your atmosphere, your characters, and pretty much every aspect of your story, from the big, obvious things to the little background details that some people won’t notice until they’re reading it for the third or fourth time.
It’s hard to distill everything about word choice into a few short paragraphs. Basically, you want to choose words that make the story sound true to itself, and the characters sound true to who they are. For today, just try to keep it in mind when you’re reading over a story. If something about a word seems out of place, look it up. If the definition doesn’t align with what you think the author is trying to portray, point it out to them so they can fix it.
Find a story to critique. Pay close attention to micro issues, and point out any problems you find to the author.
Image Credit: Content Pixie