Editing Out Your Writing Gremlins

Just as every writer has a way to come up with ideas and put them on the page, there are writing gremlins that pop up with every draft they complete.

Sometimes you recognize these gremlins on your own, or sometimes it has to be pointed out to you.

This happened to me recently when I sent my latest work in progress to a round of beta readers.

I knew the draft would flag the odd typo, missed word, or sentence that needed clarity, but there was also a host of writing gremlins I couldn’t see in my work.

Usually, that’s because the gremlin is part of your natural writing style. Or it could be that endless editing has made them invisible. Once you’re aware, however, those gremlins are easy to spot and edit out. Here’s how!

Editing Out Your Writing Gremlins

The Over Written Gremlin

This one pops up when you’ve written the sentence using every word possible.

You won’t see it at first, but after time away from your words, and/or with the help of an excellent beta, you can’t unsee the absolute word-waffle you’ve created.

Edit it out by tightening the sentence. Look carefully at every word and cut what doesn’t need to be there. There’s always a way to tighten a sentence but still keep the meaning. When you’ve mastered this skill, you’ll wonder why you ever thought the extra words were needed.

The Over Descriptive Gremlin

This gremlin likes to whisper in your ear that you must absolutely take a whole paragraph to describe the coffee mug your MC is holding. “After all,” it says. “How will the readers picture it if you don’t describe the hue of its red color, the curve in the shape, and the feel of its smooth, ceramic handle?”

Unless there’s something important about a mundane object in your book, you don’t need to over describe. In fact, you really don’t need to be over descriptive about anything.

Edit it out by learning to write descriptions simply and vividly. Whether it’s the physicality of your characters, the setting of a room, how the sun rises in your story’s world, or anything else that requires you to paint descriptions with your words, there is a way to do it using a less-is-more approach.

The Extra Staging Gremlin

One of my biggest writing flaws is the extra staging gremlin. He likes to convince me that readers won’t know how a character is moving unless I describe every step they take to cross a room.

If you’ve ever found yourself penning that your MC stood from their chair, turned left before rounding the table, stalked toward the front door, and barged it open with their right shoulder—stop! The gremlin has crawled into your brain and is controlling you.

A character storming out of a room does not need to be described so thoroughly. A character making any movement can be filled in by the reader once you’ve set some of the staging. They don’t need to be told the MC stretched their arm out, unfurled their fingers, and thought about how cold to the touch the metal switch was just so the reader knows they turned on a lamp (sadly, I’ve done this).

Edit it out by giving the reader some slack and accepting that you don’t need to outline every bit of staging. It slows down the pacing of your scene, and ups your word count unnecessarily. Set the scene with basics and chose the right words to allow the reader to infer what’s happening without spelling it out for them. Done right, they will get it.

The Excessive Use Of Body Parts Gremlin

If you’re always writing that your characters are nodding their heads, using fingers to pick items up, reaching for things with their hands, or pulling their lips into a smile, a gremlin has weaseled its way into your work.

While those are legitimate ways to write actions using body parts, it’s when you use these descriptions multiple times that it’s an issue. I do this so much in my first few drafts, I don’t notice it until betas point it out.

Edit it out by searching for the body parts (head, eyes, fingers, hands, lips, etc) and look at each instance to see what can be rewritten, deleted, or replaced with different actions or dialogue instead.

The Multiple Gestures Gremlin

One last gremlin you might recognize in your own MS is the one that causes you to add multiple gestures.

Let’s say your MC sees something shocking and wants to alert side character number 1. The multiple gestures gremlin wants you to write that the MC pointed, gasped, clutched their chest, covered their eyes, and then their mouth when a scream escaped. Do you really need that many gestures? No. No, you don’t.

Edit it out by focusing on one or two key gestures, the ones that will get your point across. You don’t want to add in so many that the reader gets bored or confused about what is happening.

And there you have my writing gremlins. How many did you recognize? How many different ones can you add?

Now that you know they exist, don’t feed them (especially after midnight. We all know how that ends). Learn how to edit the gremlins out, and eventually, how to avoid adding them in the first place. Not only will you improve the quality of your writing, but your future manuscripts will be gremlin-free!

— K.M. Allan

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34 thoughts on “Editing Out Your Writing Gremlins

  1. Hi Kate! Another great post, but the one that caught my attention was the Extra Staging. For some reason, my brain insists the information is crucial and the reader won’t “get” what I’m saying unless I spell it all out. To one degree or another, I’m guilty of all of them! Gotta love those perceptible betas who see what you and I miss every time. BTW – the Grammarly software I use catches a lot of my Overwritten gremlins. I’m learning but it doesn’t come naturally.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, that extra staging gets me every time. Maybe, on some level, we need it there to work out what’s going on for ourselves? In that case, I’ve got to learn to edit it out before getting to my final draft 🤣. Glad to hear Grammarly is so helpful. I use ProWritingAid and it does help pick up some things.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a well-written and nicely-formatted post, Kate!

    For me though, I always suffer from having too little instead of too much. Not enough words, description, gestures, the like. I have a tough time reaching minimum word counts, and hopefully you can explore that in the future as well, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Stuart 😊.

      My first drafts are like that. I’m good at adding the bare minimum, like dialogue, then I have to pad it out with descriptions and gestures and I go too far 🤣.


  3. petespringerauthor

    Home run on this post, Kate. I’ve been guilty of every one of these gremlins. I can look at my writing objectively and see plenty of room for improvement. Numero uno, for me, is the overwriting culprit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, you are writing that to me, who – of course only in my native language – cannot write enough words on a topic. Lol On the other hand, I’m still missing a lot of words in English. 😉 Thank you for great advices. Very useful also for my writing purposes. Have a nice (rest of the) weekend! xx Michael

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. I had read somewhere (can’t remember exactly though) the rule of thumb should be 2 adjectives for explaining anything, and 1 is better. This rule doesn’t work all the time, but it’s a good guide to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. pwyman66

    What? How can his five O’clock shadow match the sadness of a sundown playing monochrome movies on a silent bedroom wall. My name is Pam and I am addicted to metaphors. I enjoyed your article. The tips are sound, and I found the “thinking process” or as they say now the “mindfulness process” a way to reset and find an opportunity to reevaluated the key ingredients of my story. What moments or scenes do I want my reader to carry from chapter to chapter. My big wow was when introducing my MC what characteristics do I want my reader to accept, know, feel, and envision from the beginning of my story to the end. I am certain it will not be his unshaven beard.
    Thanks for sharing.


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