Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#28)

In this recurring feature, we’re sharing tips for editors from the desk of Douglas Gibson. Good for those starting out or old hands who need a reminder, these guidelines form an engaging guide for sharp-eyed wordsmiths.

Tip #28

A good editor should remove clichés. Yet all too often the clichés hide in plain sight, the adjective-noun combinations so accepted by the reader’s eye and mind that they become almost a single-word notion.

What “fiasco” is not “total”? When is an “inferno” not described as “raging”? When is a “defeat” not “ignominious”? When is “ado” not preceded by “further”?

A good test for the editor is to supply the adjective (“Ignominious . . . hmm”) and see what noun springs to mind. If the answer is automatic, we have a cliché to be avoided.

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One comment on “Editing Tips from Douglas Gibson (#28)

  1. Leslie Nadon says:

    Got me! Got me good! I will do better. Marty Gervais has pointed this out on a few occasions. My editor also corrected many of these in the second draft of my book about my three children who had cystic fibrosis. In reality there were many cliches, perhaps better known as “rules” to govern our lives, ones that we flaunted often. When people read my book, they might say, “That doesn’t sound like Leslie.” Reminds me of a fellow who called my talk-show one night and said, “You sound like a talking book.” Unsure how to take that, I told him that much of my knowledge came from books I read. I also had the advantage of being trained in public relations, on both sides of the fence! Anyway, thanks for the reminder. Every little bit helps {and big bits too}. Hope you are having some fun on your book tour.

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