Where is my editor when I need her?

The trouble with editors is that we tend to go on holiday just when writers need us — the same time you’re on holiday from your day job and want to really get stuck in to the editing! In my absence, here’s a video to help you kick-start your revisions process.

This video is a grammar lesson designed for those learning English as a second language, which is why it’s beautifully clear (and perhaps feels slow, to those from an English-speaking background).

It is also a kind of one-stop shop for grammar elements I often need to explain, such as:

  • 4 types of sentence structure (main feature)
  • subject–verb–object sentence structure
  • adjectives, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions (identified in examples)
  • dependent clauses (identified in examples)
  • common problems with compound sentences

How this works for you

It’s a simple process. You watch the video enough times to understand it and take any notes you wish to. Then you print out a sample portion of your writing (or the whole thing, if it’s marketing copy for a brochure or standard website). Next, you take a highlighter and highlight all the simple sentences. Now take a second colour and highlight the complex sentences; then a third colour for the compound sentences. Any complex-compound sentences? They’ll stand out by now. Even if you do this for one page, you’ll begin to get a sense of your writing pattern … and how well (or not) it’s working.

Once you’ve identified your sentence-structure pattern, you can start to think about revisions. Do you need to include more variation in sentence types? Perhaps shorter or simpler sentences would help the work feel more spacious, less dense or impenetrable? Could adding complex and compound sentences help create more flow or cohesion?

Quick diagnosis

Now you have some direction for your sentence structure, think about your verbs and adjectives. Highlight all the verbs and all the adjectives first if you like, so you can easily identify them in the text. Are your verbs mostly is, are, or were? This can be a sign of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. Telling can be great for marketing copy … but you want to make sure you’re telling the whole story you mean to tell, and engaging the audience. Do you need some showing too? A balance of showing and telling is usually best in fiction … the right balance.

If every sentence is a ‘were’ sentence, you may have discovered passive voice. Passive voice is not as engaging for a reader as active voice, not least because it buries the main point of the sentence and, cumulatively, of the whole piece.

Anyway, enough said. Happy viewing! Happy writing! Happy New Year!