The Nod and Smile Editing Passes

smile and nod memeA reasonably common piece of advice is to be careful not to overuse the words nod and smile. Beats are a lovely alternative to dialogue tags, but we can’t go to the obvious wells too often.

I knew this. I’d already made passes through my unpublished novel, Snow White and the Civil War, looking for this very thing. I’d caught a lot, and it was a smoother read.

But then I participated on a 1lineWed on Twitter, with the word nod. It was an eye-opener. I still had too many, and despite my earlier efforts, some of them were even on the same manuscript page.

Shortly after that, I posted my first chapter for online critique on AbsoluteWrite’s Share Your Work, and the critiquers’ verdict came back that I still had too many smiles. And they were right.

So I did a formal Word search for both words, and I ended up cutting them by about half. It wasn’t even that hard, not like changing story. I just needed to approach it systematically. I’ve also learned I need a similar search for could and would, since these two seem to be invisible to me.

I still think the more organic passes, where you sit and read the entire book as a reader would, have more overall value. But it’s definitely worth a systematic check for any words you overuse, especially if they’re verbs. It’s so easy to gloss over our mistakes when we’re editing our own work.

Which is all the more reason to take care of this sort of thing on our own before we trade critiques. I want to respect my beta readers’ time, and I don’t want them so busy catching repetitive beats that they miss something more important, like a potential story tweak.

All part of the frustrating, but I’m assuring myself, not never-ending process of editing. It’s taken far longer than I would’ve thought, but my manuscripts are so much better now than my early drafts. I still prefer drafting to editing, but there’s an undeniable satisfaction in polishing your words until they shine.

Keep writing! : )


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13 comments on “The Nod and Smile Editing Passes
  1. Bernadette says:

    Thanks for sharing this valuable tip.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh the fun of editing! A nod to you for getting to that stage ā˜ŗ

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Annika Perry says:

    Great advice, Cathleen and I’ll pay heed to this as I’m editing. You’re right, the more we can catch early before going to beta- readers the fairer it is for them and then they can concentrate on the nitty-gritty!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Bernadette, Lion, and Annika. I debated on even writing this post because it’s so basic, but sometimes simple advice is valuable, too. šŸ™‚


  5. It’s amazing how one word can appear so many times, isn’t it? I tend to be a name abuser – where I will have a character’s name show up in almost every paragraph. šŸ˜¦

    Just for the record, this line taken out of context amused me: “verdict came back that I still had too many smiles. And they were right.” Can you really have too many smiles? šŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • I overuse proper names, too. I think it’s because I’ve gone so far the other way, trying to avoid pronoun confusion.

      And on the smile comment, you’re right, of course. I like to smile in RL, so that’s possibly the source of my overuse. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ann Coleman says:

    I have a horrible tendency to not only use the same words over and over, but the same phrases, too. Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t you just hate that? Especially when you use the same expression in the same graf. It’s either a face palm when I catch it myself (which is preferable) or a “Thank God for beta readers” when they do. šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am much more aware of pesky mistakes I’ve been guilty of–much to my chagrin–thanks to a special beta reader. I had no idea. Nice to have these pointed out and now I am more careful. šŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I find one of the most reliable ways of catching repetitions is to read my story out loud. My eye skims over things that my ear snags.
    Beta readers deserve an awards ceremony.

    Liked by 1 person

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