It: The great offender

it – pronoun (used to represent an inanimate thing understood, previously mentioned, about to be mentioned, or present in the immediate context). You can’t tell a book by its cover.

While working with my good friend, editor and mentor Paul Mariah in the 1980’s until his death in 1996 I learned one very important editing check:  if you see the word “it,” find another way to write the phrase.  The word is inexact.  So, unless you are writing dialogue there is a tighter way to write your narrative.  You just missed the way on your first write.

The main problem with the word “it” is weakness.  “It” is not emotive, precise, or vivid.

What to do?  As you are writing, if you find yourself automatically using the word “it,” stop.  Rethink what you are attempting to say.  Find a way to rephrase the thought.  Usually a writer uses “it” as a place holder for something more.  I find when I am writing “it” can serve until I come back for a rewrite if I want to get one with the heat of creating a scene.  Just mark the word (red works) to easily find the place when you are ready to rewrite.

If you put in a few “its” in the heat of getting words down, when you reach the editing process look at the entire passage.  Revise the passage—you may need to use several sentences to make the change—for a clearer and verbally more exciting narrative.  Then, re-read the passage to yourself.  You will hear the difference.  You will be glad you took the time to rethink that section of your story.

After you finish you rewrite, do a final search through your manuscript to locate any use of “if” that missed your attention.  This final search is a very professional way to polish up your manuscript.

Go get it.

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