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Home of authors Holly Hunt & Jophrael L. Avario

Please Welcome… Nikki Andrews, Editor Extraordinare!


BARRICADE THE EXITS!

In my opinion, there is entirely too much CSI on television. New York, Miami, LA, East Podunk. I get the picture–crime is everywhere. And the investigators are smart, sexy people with great educations and devastating logic.

My beef is not with the stories or the actors. What I object to is the way writers have picked up on the noun “exit” used as a verb.

English is always turning nouns into verbs. Look at tasked or gifting. As a further example, until about the 1960s, jet was strictly a noun. Then people started flying in jets. They started jetting. That was cool; jet as a verb is exciting. It implies speed, high fashion, importance. It has an emotional content and descriptive power.

Not so exit. Police investigators are specifically trained to write emotion-free, neutral text to avoid prejudicing any possible prosecutions. Their reports are dry as dust: “The subject exited the area.” It may be accurate, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same impact as “The perp ran away,” does it?

I see exit so often in the submissions I edit that it has become like a no-see-um, the ubiquitous New England pest. They’re barely visible, but their bite is incredibly annoying. It will jolt me right out of whatever I’m doing. And the last thing you want to do is jolt your readers out of your story.

Fiction writing is all about emotion. Every time you can choose an emotive word over a non-emotive word, do so. Exit is flat. It shows the reader nothing about the character or the action. It’s an easy choice when you’re writing fast, but in your rewrites you should leave it for police and military reports, stage directions, and computer instructions. Find verbs that play multiple roles—leave, emerge, step out, run away, saunter, take off, veer, sidle, slink, stride. A horse can exit a barn, or it can bolt, skitter, trot, slip, meander, or plod. See how each verb creates a different picture in your mind?

So barricade the exits. Do a search in your manuscript and examine each use of the word. Replace it ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and watch your writing come alive.

*

The wonderful Nikki Andrews has been editing at Champagne Books long enough to be responsible for all the good bits of The Devil’s Wife and Scale & Feather. Have a look at her site here, and check out her blog for random musings on editorial pests, or check out her books Framed, Chicken Bones and A Windswept Star

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August 21, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

10 Comments

  1. One more word for my find Column. Very informative, any time we can get info from an editor it’s a good day. Thanks

    Comment by Cathy Coburn | August 23, 2012

    • You’re welcome, Cathy, and thanks for stopping in. It’s nice to get good feedback like yours; sometimes we wonder if we’re making a difference!

      Comment by Nikki Andrews | August 23, 2012

  2. This is my second attempt to leave a comment so it will be the condensed version. I want to add my praise for Nikki as an editor. I was fortunate to have her edit my Civil War book which has earned all top reviews. I credit Nikki for her editing style and expertise for a part in that.

    Comment by Linda Swift | August 23, 2012

    • Linda, thank you so much for your kind words. But I can’t take all or even much of the credit–no matter how much I polish, I still have to start with a quality gem. Authors like you, Rita, Rosemary and Holly, who accept and improve on my suggestions, are a joy to work with.

      A lot of stuff gets dumbed down in media, as it does in speech. That’s just one of the ways language changes. However, that doesn’t mean we have to accept sloppiness in print. There is a difference between “your” and “you’re,” and all those other homonyms that people mix up.

      Comment by Nikki Andrews | August 23, 2012

  3. I’d like to add my name to those who have high praise for Nikki as editor. I was fortunate to have her edit my Civil War book which has gotten nothing but five star reviews. I give Nikki much credit for that. I feel that our constant communication via internet, texting, etc. has made slopppy writers of us. For example, I am annoyed every time I see “your” used for “You’re” and feel soon the contractions will be a thing of the past. I don’t understand the “couple chairs” instead of “couple of chairs” either. Okay, I’m climbing down from my soapbox now.

    Comment by Linda Swift | August 23, 2012

  4. Hi everyone, thanks for commenting. It can be very difficult for authors to see mistakes/repetition in their own work. That, in part, is what critique groups and editors are for. I will actually put my hand up and confess that I use “actually” more than I should (thanks to my writing group, Talespinners, for pointing that out). One tip I learned from an author I edited: put your manuscript in a different font, then read it aloud. Because it looks different and you’re activating a different brain process, you’ll discover all kinds of things that could use improvement. Try it some time.

    Comment by Nikki Andrews | August 22, 2012

  5. I am a repeat offender. I shall go forth to search and replace. This is me bolting for the other side of the computer.

    Comment by books-jepainter.com | August 22, 2012

  6. Hi Rosemary, thanks for stopping in! The complaint about language changing for the worse is eternal, but with the availability of media these days, the changes are faster and more visible than ever. Some changes are good, some neutral, but we can use the media to call out the bad ones.

    Comment by Nikki Andrews | August 22, 2012

  7. Great post from a GREAT editor. At a writing workshop, a technical writer-turned-author recommended that writers read their own work critically and develop a list of overused or inappropriately used words, then edit them out BEFORE submitting a manuscript to an ever-patient editor. Did I mention that one of my words is GREAT? Rita

    Comment by Rita Bay | August 21, 2012

  8. An excellent post from a wonderful editor! We’re often complaining about the way language is changing for the worse here in Britain.

    Comment by Rosemary Gemmell | August 21, 2012


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