Quick Tip #1: Vary your sentences.
I know it seems obvious, like it should go without saying, but this is probably the biggest, best tip I can give anybody who wants to make his or her copy editor happy.
Varying sentence structure means several things. Let me break it down for our skimmers out there:
- Some long sentences, some short sentences (e.g. It wasn't simply that I occasionally misread algebraic expressions or that calculus turned my mind into jelly-textured mush. I hated math.)
- Avoid overusing passive voice (I'm one who appreciates passive voice in certain books, especially if it goes well with the narrator's voice, but every sentence should not contain passive words and phrases: had, has, were, was -ing. Variety is the spice of life.)
- Use similes AND metaphors, as well as symbols that only the deep readers will get (otherwise, you may end up with a lot of 'like' and 'as' in your manuscript, which will wear down even your patient readers. Try changing it from, "My legs were like jelly," to, "My legs turned to jelly.")
- Dialogue and exposition (Few readers have the patience to read through pages and pages of exposition without any action/dialogue, but too much dialogue can present the same problem, particularly if the action during dialogue is unclear. The rule of thumb seems to be half a page of each, and keep things moving.)
- Mood or tone (i.e. Don't depress the reader with a narrator who constantly has the same low mood. Just as reading a constantly peppy narrator would exhaust anyone, reading a moody, broody voice will also wear over time. Let readers see your characters through a natural scope of moods and emotions. If you don't see how this is possible, consider that even someone who is depressed will sometimes put on a smile and fake it for company or genuinely laugh at something unexpectedly funny. Kiersten White is my hero for mixing the peppy with the dark and broody in her trilogy, Paranormalcy.)
Being that I'm fairly new to this copy editing gig, I find that I'm learning new things constantly from the amazing authors I get to pre-read. I hope you find something helpful in these quick tips, as well.
P.S. If you're looking for a good read this week, brand new off the presses is Jen McConnel's DAUGHTER OF CHAOS from her Red Magic series. Or for middle grade age zombie lovers who want to learn more about the dark and sinister workings of Capitol Hill, there's Ty Drago's UNDERTAKERS: Secret of the Corpse Eater also out this week.