I imagine we all have pet peeves when it comes to fiction. Those niggling habits writers have that trip us up, waste words, and mince meanings. If enough of them distract, we are tempted to repurpose the book for kindling.
When editing my clients' work, I tend to run into certain bugaboos quite often.
Some of them require an ear for Tense (and manipulating it as needed for backstory), Point of View (the blinders that keep that horse from seeing what’s behind him), underuse of contractions, telling when showing would be more powerful, etc.
Luckily, others are less nuanced and can be addressed easily with our word programs’ search/find features.
Search and destroy:
When you‘ve placed these two words -- and then (side by side). Pick one or the other. You don’t need both.
Qualifiers deflate prose. Examples: began to, begin, started to, start, a bit of, a little of, seemed to, what appeared to be, maybe, almost, decided to, plan to, any (as in: Note any changes you make.), all of (as in: I'm too old for all of this.)
Frequently used throwaway words that weaken the prose such as: just, oh, anyway, well, fairly, seems, though, very, really, many, a lot, so, and of these (as in: several of the boys)
Passive construction: watch for forms of “to be” paired with gerunds. Simple past tense is better, more active, more engaging. “She is holding” versus “She holds”
Vague and less vivid words like:
sit (how about “plop” or “eased down into” or “collapsed into”)
walked (strolled, marched, traipsed, sauntered) and run, went down, went over, moved, laugh, look…
!!!!!! Use exclamation marks only when absolutely necessary. Good dialogue or narrative already conveys the urgency or excitement
Suddenly and immediately. Most of the time they aren’t necessary. Let the thing happen, the context will let us know it happened suddenly.
Unnecessary qualifiers weaken the prose. Let them be or do instead of “start to be” or “begin to do” something: watch for “began” and “started”
Unnecessary wordiness (like redundancies and phrases that can be simplified without changing meaning) Ex: "down below" becomes "below"
Unnecessary attributions of thoughts, beliefs, etc. If we are solidly in POV we assume those thoughts etc. are those of the POV character. Ex: I thought, He felt, I believed
“THAT” can often be eliminated. If a sentence can read just fine without it, take it out.
Fancy dialogue tags. “Said” is typically the best dialogue tag – others like hissed, addressed formally, argued, etc. call attention to themselves and slow the read. Good dialogue doesn’t need description – unless it is unclear in context that something is said sarcastically. Even "said" can be replaced with an action of the character. "Don't you dare." John grabbed his beer can and sqeezed it into a crumple of aluminum.
Make use of the FIND feature and you’ll clean up many editors’ pet peeves and will help your reader continue moving forward.
Inkpot wishes you good editing.