INDIE Editor Grammar Tips: Overuse of ‘As’

The misuse and overuse of ‘as’ can negatively affect how your writing in perceived. Time to learn how to kick your ‘as’. Let’s get started.

‘As’ is most commonly misused and overused when trying to portray a series of events.

There’s nothing grammatically incorrect about using ‘as’ to show a person doing something at the same time as something else.

However, overuse of ‘as’ makes your writing look amateurish and clunky.

Particularly when there are many other ways to flex your writing kahunas.

Yes, I used the word ‘kahunas’.

A simple guide:
‘As’ shouldn’t be used to mean:

  • at the same time
  • at the same time as
  • because
  • while
  • when.

What, when, how?

Events in the real world can happen at the same time.

Events in fiction happen sequentially.

Why?

Because readers prefer to read sequentially.

It’s less jarring and, more importantly, it’s better writing.

Example:
John put his arm around Margery as Bill entered the garden.

We know that Bill can enter the garden at the same time that John is putting his arm around Margery.

However, the events need to be described sequentially for the reader to make more sense of the action:

John put his arm around Margery. Bill entered the garden. 

Creating a sequence of events makes it easier for the reader to follow your action.

Another Example:
Bill grimaced as John put his arm around Margery.

The above is a common error.

At first glance it appears all is well and fine.

Let’s take a closer look at the example with reference to cause-and-effect.

What is the cause?
John putting his arm around Margery.

What is the effect?
Bill grimacing.

Both cannot happen simultaneously as the example suggests.

John must put his arm around Margery before Bill can react with his grimace.

The fix? Let’s try two solutions:

John put his arm around Margery. Bill grimaced.

Bill grimaced because John put his arm around Margery.

Notice how using ‘because’ makes the second example grammatically correct, but that it’s still clunky.

You can do better!

How to show-off my writing kahunas?

See sentences connected by ‘as’ – or using ‘while’, ‘because’, ‘while’, ‘when’ – as an opportunity to flex your writing muscles.

How about:

John put his arms around Margery, cradling her for the first time. The crack of a breaking twig and Margery froze. John glanced toward the sound. Bill stood watching them, a grimace plastered across his face.

Sure, the above prose needs some work. But the sequence of events is more easily defined. And not one ‘as’ in sight.

Tip

Separate your scene into a series of sentences for each event.

This will allow you to get a sense of the scene. Of cause and effect.

Then rewrite the scene using these sentences, adding extra nuance where needed.

Avoid using ‘as’ or any other connecting words.

Being real about writing

Do I occasionally use ‘as’ when writing cause and effect? Every now and then. Sure I do.

Grammar use in fiction, is a guide only.

But to break the rules, you have to know them.


Please take a look at my handy grammar guide.

The Complete INDIE Editor – 55 Essential copy-edits for the Professional Independent Author

It covers the overuse of ‘as’ in the section ‘Tricky Words’ and a whole lot more.

Amazon Reviews:

“Easy to follow and packed with usable tips…well worth the few dollars.”

“It has given me a lot more confidence in my writing and helped me identify some schoolgirl errors. More than anything, it helped me clarify what is good and bad writing.”

“I’m now happily writing with confidence in my own style. A very useful guide I’d highly recommend.”

An essential companion for an effective writing process.

Available in Kindle and Paperback

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‘At the editors…’ the awful wait

One of the most exciting things that has happened to me on my self-publishing journey, is the opportunity of sending my work to the editors. I say ‘exciting’, but what I really mean is ‘nerve-wracking’!

I go through a whole host of emotions when I’m writing a novel: excitement, desperation, frustration, anger and depression to name just a few. This is because I’m what you might call a ‘moody guy’. Some days I take a look at what I’ve written and feel like deleting it all and starting again. Or just giving up. It’s that bad. Other days, I think the polar opposite… I can actually write! I literally dance around like an idiot.

And every other shade of emotion in between.

This makes the discipline of writing difficult. I have to slog on through the moods regardless. And that’s what I do, day after day. In many ways, I actually find the writing process cathartic. Finishing a story that I’m proud of is an achievement that always keeps giving. And that’s all well and good… when it’s just me. 

At some point, though, I have to send it off to the editors….

My first novel, Blue Into The Rip, was copy-edited by myself. It sounds a dumb thing to do, but other than letting a friend read it, who spotted one or two typos, that was it. Luckily, and because I have a robust redrafting process (and because I put the novel in the bottom drawer for six months, and because I was shit-scared of fucking up), the novel was well received with mostly five star reviews. Phew!

But I was lucky. Luck played its part again when I was edited by Indie editing genius, David Gatewood for the short story anthology From The Indie Side. Working with David made me realise that I needed a more professional approach. I advertised on Twitter and found four editors!

The first time I sent my work off to the editors, it happened without me really noticing. I was banging through the three stories for my IronScythe Sagas and it was only when I’d finished and they’d been emailed off that I sat back and thought… oh shit!

It was an awful wait. Should I email the editors to see how they’re getting on? Should I ask if they liked it or not? How many marks out of ten? But I did what I do best, which was nothing.

Why break a winning pattern?

Within a few weeks the manuscripts came back. Reading their notes I soon realised that I was being precious. I found the process invaluable. Sure, there were a few red-faced moments, but at least they had been spotted. Changes were made and the MSS did the rounds again. And it turns out, the editors liked the stories as well, which was a nice bonus. I felt cool, on top of things…

Last week I finished my latest novel, Vatic.  I was writing a short story for my upcoming anthology – just 8000 words – and damn and blast if it didn’t turn into a novel. Vatic is a ‘space mystery murder thing’ written in First Person Present. So it was a big departure for me. It’s now at the editors. And guess what? Nothing has changed. I’m just as nervous as I’ve ever been.

Hopefully, they will read this and let me know…

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How to spot your writing flaws and fix them using AutoCrit

The question I’m most asked by writers on Twitter is ‘Can you take a look at my work and give it a critique’.

As a committed author, who works a full time job, including a London commute (you’ll know all about my commuting troubles if you follow my Twitter feed!), my time is precious. I’m not alone—the same is true for most modern writers.

And, having read a great deal of under-polished, under-drafted work, I certainly wouldn’t contemplate critiquing anything that’s not been edited. I’m not being elitist, far from it. No matter what your level, a professional approach to writing is, in my opinion, the most important function of the modern author.

As such, we have to use every avenue and every resource available to produce tight, highly polished manuscripts that can pass muster with all those critics out there—including myself! So how can we do this?

Getting the most for your money

Editors can cost a fair penny, and if they’re dealing with more fundamental problems with your prose (instead of looking at the manuscript as a whole), your money will not be well spent. That’s why I always make sure my manuscripts are the best they can be, before they go to the editors.

Let me put my hands up, I write as much terrible prose as anyone else. My first drafts read like they’ve been scrawled in crayon. My advice: keep redrafting. And when you think you’re done, redraft again. After that, I suggest a few more redrafts and a final redraft just be sure. As well as a quick post-final redraft before your final, final, final, final redraft…

The problem with redrafting? We’re so close to the manuscript that we become blind to its problems. To combat this, and to speed up the process, I use an online program called AutoCrit. It’s a vital step in my editing regime that I’d recommend to all authors, new or established.

How come?

Authors use the term ‘bottom drawer’—it refers to the editing method of writing your manuscript, editing it and ‘finishing it’ before leaving it alone for a few months. When the writer goes back to the story after that time, the manuscript’s flaws and problems are more apparent. This is a long process and the writer may still miss glaring errors such as repetition, cliché and lack of flow.

AutoCrit quickly identifies such problems in your manuscript and is invaluable at helping to spot your bad habits. All you need is an internet connection and you’re ready to go. No installing software and you can use it for free on up to 15,000 words at a time—you’ll receive a comprehensive report that includes sections for almost every focus area that AutoCrit offers.

Why use an online editor?

I’ve written for many years, and I thought I was on top of my bad habits. My big problem? Repeating the same words and phrases in close proximity. It’s like my brain gets turned on to a word or phrase and there I am, repeating it over and over again like some writing idiot. And I’m snow-blind to them. But I didn’t realise what a problem this was until I used AutoCrit.

This simple-to-use copy & paste tool highlights my erroneous repetitions, my overuse of ‘all’, ‘little’ and any number of other words, but also gives me stats on overuse of more common words like ‘feel/felt’, ‘that, ‘it’ and a whole host of other problematic lazy phrases that can easily creep into my sentences when I’m not looking.

At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to trust my writing to a faceless algorithm. But like notes from my editors, I always make the final decision on what stays in and what goes.

I’ve been using AutoCrit successfully for over two years—and even now, after multiple writing projects—I still convince myself it won’t be needed. But I’m always mistaken. AutoCrit is a vital last step before I send my manuscript off to my editors. Not only does it save them time and effort, it saves my blushes… which would be multitudinous.

In conclusion, AutoCrit is no magic solution, but it will certainly help you refine your writing skills. And in such a competitive field, we need all the help we can get.

The AutoCrit Website
AutoCrit on Facebook
Autocrit on Twitter (@EditingWizard)

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Why using a professional editor is a no brainer

In my last self-publishing piece, why self-publishing is a no brainer, I mentioned the importance of a professional approach to your writing. Today, I will focus on the editing process.

So what do I mean by ‘professional self-publishing’?
The answer is a simple one. As self-publishers, we should try and act as if we were signed with a major publishing house. We need to engage skilled editors like David Gatewood and others to edit our work professionally. And, most importantly, we must respect the editing process—there is no point in paying for editorial services if you then ignore their revisions and suggestions. We also need to produce well-designed covers and market our novels effectively.

EditingEditing, editing, editing!
One of the biggest criticisms of self-publishing is one of quality. Modern publishing allows anyone to write in the morning and publish the same afternoon. This is an empowering notion, but it does mean that the lure of self-publishing can lead to unfinished, un-edited work finding its way on to the electronic shelves.

I’m not knocking writers—far from it (if self-publishing was around twenty years ago, I would have been publishing unedited novels—I wouldn’t have known any better),  instead, I want to urge authors to resist the pull of the publish button until they have done everything to ensure their writing is the best and most professional it can be. This is a competitive market, we need every chance we can get!

And regardless of how many great indie writers there are out there, this criticism of quality is still one of the biggest sticks that those who support the traditional publishers use against independent publishing. And that’s why a professional approach is paramount.

Satisfying your reader’s needs
As I mentioned in my previous article, one of the great things about self-publishing is that readers do not care if you are self-published—if your novel has a flowing, engaging story, is well written and professionally edited, you are satisfying their needs as readers.

A common mistake a lot of new writers make is to only show their work to friends and family. Of course they are going to be impressed, but crucially, they do not have the experience to give them the informed feedback they require and are more likely to be supportive rather than objective—which leads me onto the most important tool of any writer:

Objectivity

I often say: ‘You cannot pay enough for objectivity’. And you just can’t. It is gold dust to the writer. Not sure what I mean? Objectivity is the opposite of ‘subjectivity’. When writing, we are working in an entirely subjective environment. We see all, we know all and we have to try and convey what we know to the reader. Ack!

A common way of achieving this valuable objectivity or distance from your story/novel, is to ‘put the manuscript in the bottom drawer’. This means leaving your novel alone for a month or two so that when you read it again, you see it with fresher, more objective eyes.

An editor is better!
The bottom drawer method is a good technique, but an editor will give you professional objectivity and a written critique. For new writers, this can be daunting. You send off your cherished masterpiece to your chosen editor who more often than not comes back and tells you it’s full of holes. It can be embarrassing, you may feel insulted or even depressed, but the longer you expose yourself to this process, the better a writer you will become and the more you will realise just how valuable their objectivity is to your writing process.

Instead of waiting six weeks with your novel languishing in the ‘bottom drawer’, you can send it off to a professional who can give you better objectivity. Editors not only point out spelling errors, and bad sentences, they also spot character inconsistencies, plot flaws, and all your bad habits.

It’s the same process that a signed author would go through, except instead of waiting months for your revisions, you can get them back in a week or two. And, depending on the agreement with your editor, you can send your work back to them again and again until it’s in tip top condition.

If you are very lucky, like I am, you might find a group of willing editors to edit your writing for the pleasure of working with you. I have four such editors, each with a different emphasis, who collectively give a very full and rounded editing experience. But there are a host of editors out there who you can professionally engage to help give your masterpiece that final polish, or as is usual in my case, a very deep clean!

Sending your work away to professionals is also a good whipping stick—it can really focus you on those final set of revisions, particularly if you want to get value for money.

Copy-editing to reduce your editor costs
The most useful task I do before sending any manuscript away, is to go through my invaluable list of copy-edits. You can find them all here, in my guide The Complete INDIE Editor – 55 Essential Copy-edits for the Professional Independent Author.

The-INDIE-EditorThese Copy-edits include:

• Redundant adjectives & overuse of adverbs
• Over thirty overused words & phrases such as that, it, up/down, was/were, had, even, got, etc.
• Overuse of exclamations and the ellipsis
• Proper use of italics, quotations & capitalisation
• Word pairs & homophones
• How to handle numbers & time
• And descriptions of flow, show not tell, writing tenses, dialogue handling and loads more.

BUY
Amazon Kindle US | UK
Barnes & Noble NOOK US | UK
Kobo  US | UK
Smashwords (Sony Reader, Palm, PDF, etc.)

The upshot of sending a well-polished manuscript to your editor is that they will focus on the more important aspects of your novel, not just the everyday mistakes we writers make um… every day.

And there we have it, and I even managed a little plug at the end. Nice. Next, I’ll be looking at cover design and some of the pitfalls to avoid when selling your novels through social channels.

Want to discuss this with me further? Then leave a comment or use my forum.

 

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