Fun With Highlighters

by Spiletta42

Disclaimer: Mine! This method is all mine.

PG-13 Small children might be frightened by excessive use of adverbs in some examples.

A/N: Written for Kim.

This I betaed myself. In color.

Fun With Highlighters

Okay, so you've written your fic and it's time for editing. Print out your fic. Get five different colored highlighters, a red pen, a blue pen, and a black pen. Also some small Post-It notes and a pencil. Don't come back without that stuff.

Have you gathered everything? Really and truly? Okay then, let's go.

Pick up your green highlighter. We're going to start with adverbs. Adverbs describe verbs, and generally end in "ly" so they should be easy to spot. Highlight every single one in your entire fic.

Don't say you like adverbs. Don't try to insist you don't use too many. Just do it. And leave the adjectives alone. (Those describe nouns -- we'll look at them later.)

Oh, that's a lovely bit of green. It's like a forest. Now go to each adverb in turn, and ask yourself, is there a better way to describe that action? Did you say "ran quickly" where you could have said "raced" or "walked heavily" where you could have said "trudged"? There you go, use the red pen on those ones.

Now let's see that pink highlighter. Today the pink highlighter will be used on dependent clauses. "As she walked to the bank, Sue thought about her boyfriend." See the dependent clause? It's the "As she walked to the bank" bit. "Sue reached for the potato chips, hoping Bob wouldn't notice a few missing." You guessed it, the part beginning with hoping.

It doesn't matter if it's correct or not, it's perfectly fine from a grammar standpoint. Highlight it in pink anyway. Come back when you're finished.

Oh, that's lovely. It's as pink as the little girls' aisle in the toy store. You get to keep two per page, maximum. Be selective. The rest need to be changed. "Sue reached for the potato chips AND HOPED Bob wouldn't notice a few missing."

Better, no?

Is any of that pink attached to a speaker attribute? (That's the he said/she said thing). Change those to beats as follows:

"Blah," said Sue, reaching for the potato chips. "Blah Blah."

This is better:

"Blah." Sue reached for the potato chips. "Blah Blah."

Red pen the changes, write the new text in blue in the margins if necessary. Then we'll move on.

It's time for the blue highlighter, and our target is forms of the verb "to be." (Am, Is, Was, Were, Be, Being...) You can't get rid of them all, that's not the point. Don't think, just color them blue.

A yes, blue as a smurf, I see. Now see how many of those you can change. Many of them will stay, but some of them can be turned into actions rather than statements.

"Sue was walking down the beach" becomes "Sue walked down the beach."

"Sue was waist deep in water" becomes "Sue stood waist deep in water."

Okay, adjective time. Yellow highlighter. Color them. Go back and decide which you need, or which just distract from the noun in question.

You've still got the purple highlighter, right? Okay then, let's finish this puppy off. Go after your hanging prepositions, dangling participles, or any other frequent grammatical mistakes you might have. Perhaps you tend to use too many speaker attributes and not enough beats. Or perhaps you have a bad habit of always telling the reader what emotion the character feels, rather than showing it. Highlight every emotion named, then find a way to show it.

Now read your colored fic one more time, aloud, and circle in red anything that doesn't sound right. Also, circle anything that's spelled wrong. Take the black pen and make a list of misspelled words on a Post-It note. Later you get to write those seven times each as punishment for having spelled them wrong in the first place.

If you find any major changes, write them on a Post-It, and stick that to the fic on the page in question.

Your last task is to make a list of plot threads. Make sure all of them are resolved by the end. Don't leave the reader in a lurch, wondering if Sue ever found her missing bookmark.

My patented editing method can turn drek like this:

The red-haired female FBI agent walked laborously but steadily over the wet, mucky ground.

Into clean prose like this:

Scully trudged through the swamp.

Or dull prose like this:

Janeway picked up her cup of coffee as she crossed the ready room. Taking a sip, she turned and looked out the viewport. Hearing the door chime, she took another sip as she crossed back to her desk again. She called for her visitor to enter as she took her seat.

Into a quick, informative paragraph like this:

Coffee in hand, Janeway sat in her ready room with a stack of less than inspiring PADDs. Her door chimed.

"Come." She raised her head from the dull work.


Books For Writers
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Renni Browne
Dave King
This one is exceptional. Take any first draft and turn it into publishable material with this great editing guide. Improved my writing one hundred percent. This is not a grammar guide. It is much deeper.cover

Spiletta42's Beta Graphic



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Star Trek™©, Star Trek: The Next Generation™©, Star Trek: Voyager™© and related properties exist as Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, June 2004.