Avoid dead words.
Make a checklist of words that slow down your writing and water down the reading experience; make the writing itself as robust as possible. Here are a few words that fiction editors will hunt down and axe: seemed, could, just, really, looked, and the ever-popular passive verbs. Avoid echoes (repeating the same word too often in consecutive sentences or paragraphs).
A caveat: Don’t overwrite by resorting to what in the fiction world is called “purple prose” — trying to liven up writing by substituting flowery synonyms straight from the thesaurus.
Talk to the dog.
Before you sign off on that feature article, borrow this common fiction-editing technique and read it aloud — if to no one but your attentive pup. The brain processes the spoken word differently than the written word, so this can be an important way to do a final read on text with which you’re already very familiar. It is particularly effective at catching missed info-dumps, awkward wording, misplaced punctuation, and echoes. Prefer to have someone read to you? Both Macs and PCs have text-to-speech functions now, so put “Alex” (my Mac reader voice) to work for you.
The next time you read a novel, notice how these rules are applied. And, next time you write or edit an article, think about how they might help make the piece as engaging as possible for your readers. Assess the beginning of your article in seven seconds, and ask yourself:
Will your reader outlast the goldfish?
Suzanne Johnson is editor of Auburn Magazine, and previously served as editor of the award-winning magazines at Tulane
University and Rice University. She was the co-founding editor
of the now-annual CASE Editors Forum. Within the last five years, she has added novelist to her resume, both under her
own name and the pen name of Susannah Sandlin. Her 15th book, Wild Man’s Curse (Sandlin) was published by Montlake on April 5; number 16, Belle Chasse (Johnson), will be
published by TOR/Macmillan on Nov. 8. Connect at