Common editing mistakes

February 14, 2019
Karou, Chief Snacks Officer at RUFF!
Karou, Chief Snacks Officer at RUFF!

Even if your story has brilliant characters, a stunning world, heart-wrenching emotion, and breathless action… if it’s poorly edited, it won’t engage readers.

Editing can make or break a book.

One poorly edited book can tarnish your reputation, damage that’s difficult to shake off. Hundreds of books are released every week. Strong editing will help you stand apart from the crowd.

The humans on the RUFF! team work closely with you, the author, to understand your vision. They believe in honing your work so it shines. Not slashing and burning every paragraph to the ground so our own editorial voice intrudes on the narrative.

Nope nope nope.

That said, our editors find common errors in nearly every manuscript we receive. These common mistakes aren’t a matter of voice or style; they’re just ruff writing to be cleaned up to make your book better than the rest.

Currently drafting or rewriting? See if you find any of these common errors in your current work in progress. If not, you’re probably not looking close enough; everyone makes a few of these mistakes in early drafts!

If you do commit some of these errors in ruff drafts, congratulations! You’re human. Not as great as a dog, but pretty awesome all the same.

Never fear. RUFF! has you covered.

Show, don’t tell

We know, we know. Every author has heard this maxim at least once.

That’s because… it’s important.

Don’t summarize plot points or character emotions. Allow your readers to experience a story through action, dialogue, and sensory description. Here’s an example:

Telling: “He left the room in anger.”
Showing: “The planks of the floor squealed in protest as he stormed out of the room.”

Interestingly, many writers make the mistake of showing, then telling. Here’s an example:

“My knees quaked as my fingers closed on the brass doorknob. I hesitated, gathering my courage to twist it, to fling the door open. I was terrified of whatever stood outside the door.

Here, the author does a good job showing the narrator’s fear. However, the second (italicized) sentence is useless; all it does is blandly summarize what was already depicted vividly.

Slice off that second sentence. Your readers can feel terror without being told to be terrified.

Trust your readers.

Unnecessary filler

Don’t worry; I’m not here to tell you to write like Hemingway.

RUFF! editors are adept at helping you identify scenes that drag down the plot, excise slow openers or anticlimactic denouements, and scrub away over-described filler from your sentences. Hemingway you are not, but neither should you sound like Joyce, amirite? Here’s an example:

Chockfull of filler words: “She heard her mother’s voice; it was louder and she could tell her mother was getting closer now. She walked across the room, opened the window, looked outside, jumped onto the balcony, and was gone.”

Tighter: “Her mother’s high-pitched voice grew closer. She flung open the window and leaped to the balcony.”

Your readers don’t have to be told that your character hears something. The very mention of a sound means your character had to hear it. Your readers don’t always need a literal play-by-play of someone walking across a room; often, the action can be implied (though there are exceptions).

Trust your readers.


Under-sharing your world-building means forgetting that your reader can only know what they’ve read on the page—that they must be shown how your universe works with a few tantalizing lines. If a character makes an oblique reference to a scene that (oops!) you cut during a revision, your readers will be stymied. RUFF! helps you avoid this.

Over-sharing or “info-dumping” your world-building means writing long passages of thesis-level detail to explain something—the backstory, the system of money or magic, or the importance of a moment. RUFF! editors trim your world-building to the precise minimum of intriguing clues peppered throughout the action of the story. This will ground your readers but not condescend to or bore them.

So like, trust your readers.

Point of view

It’s jarring to be immersed in one character’s perspective and suddenly find yourself hearing the unspoken emotions of someone else, or noticing something that’s impossible for the current character to know.

RUFF! will guide you in selecting the POV that best serves your narrative… and sticking to it.

Distracting or incorrect dialogue tags

“Laughed” and “sighed’ are actions that can happen right after someone speaks.

“Said” and “whispered” are dialogue tags telling the reader who is speaking.

RUFF! reduces excessive colorful dialogue tags—if everyone is screaming and yelling all the time, a scene can get exhausting. RUFF! cuts them altogether where an action clarifies who is speaking, while adding dialogue tags when it’s not clear who is speaking. Also, commas and periods at the end of quotations depend on whether they're followed by a dialogue tag or an action masquerading as a dialogue tag.


Have you ever watched a movie and delighted in spotting a scene error?

In one scene, the actor is holding a shrimp cocktail, and in the next, he’s holding a hamburger. Or it’s daytime when it should be the dead of night. Or a telephone rings but you know telephones haven’t been invented yet.

As your editor, one of the most valuable things RUFF! does—because it’s one of the hardest things for a writer to see after a thousand rereads—is zero in on, research, and eliminate inconsistencies. Your character’s eyes should be brown on page two, ninety-two, and four hundred sixty-two.

Repeated words or phrases

It’s easy to accidentally mention “tears” seven times on a single page when you’re writing a sad scene.

RUFF! is fabulous at replacing repetitive language to keep your writing fresh and interesting to the reader. We also help vary your sentence structure and length so the rhythm of the story doesn’t get in a rut.

Verb tense

Novels are complex—filled with dialogue, current action, flashbacks, and other places where the tense can vary.

It’s critical to get every verb tense correct.

We’ll help you stick to past, present, or maybe past perfect and past progressive, and show you the few appropriate times when tense switching is acceptable… as the story dictates.

Confused words

Brace yourself. Homonyms are coming.

Famous homonym mix-ups probably grace your social media feeds on the regular. We’re talking about the sinister variations of they’re/their/there, its/it’s, then/than, lay/lie, affect/effect, passed/past, and many more.

Readers don’t love it when an author drops in the wrong your.

But it’s cool; we’ve got your back.

Lingo varies among editors. To learn more about the three editing services we offer, click here.

Click here to schedule a free consultation.

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Ruff! Dog

Karou, the cutest grammar blogger in existence, shares bite-sized grammar and #writetip tidbits in accessible terms, unlike your seventh-grade English teacher who made you terrified of concepts like “indirect objects” and “dangling modifiers.” Karou’s here to make you a better writer—no editing service fee required. Also, guest bloggers and featured authors make regular appearances to strut their stuff!

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