Avoid confusing your readers: five simple editing tips by Wendy Janes

1. Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent.

If your main character was called Samantha Raven in your first draft, but on the third draft the alliteration of Samantha Sparrow appealed far more, run a check to remove any stray Ravens left behind. Also, if Samantha walks into a job interview with her hair in a ponytail, carrying her laptop bag, and wearing a navy blue pantsuit, make sure she doesn’t exit the interview an hour later with her hair in a pixie cut or clutching a purse or wearing a grey pantsuit.

60-Day Edit Tip #1 from @WendyProof: Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent. #85K90 #amediting Click To Tweet

2. Differentiate your characters.

Double-check that your main and supporting characters have different looks, traits, voices and names. If Samantha’s best friends are called Kylie and Kelly, there’s a good chance readers will muddle them up, even if Kylie is an outdoorsy vet and Kelly is a meticulous accountant.

60-Day Edit Tip #2 by @WendyProof: Differentiate your characters. #85K90 #amediting Click To Tweet

3. Handle time carefully.

Putting dates in chapter titles can work well, especially when a story jumps back and forth. What can be more effective is to weave the passage of time into narrative or dialogue. Some really good stories are purposely vague about time, often in order to create unease and mystery. By the way, confusing readers on purpose can be an excellent creative choice, but that’s a post for another day…

60-Day Edit Tip #3 by @WendyProof: Handle time carefully. #85K90 #amediting Click To Tweet

4. Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary.

Please don’t think I’m suggesting you dumb down your writing, but do make sure your choice of language matches the mood, context, and genre. Using obscure words can pull readers right out of a story.

60-Day Edit Tip #4 by @WendyProof: Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary. #85K90 Click To Tweet

5. Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama.

By all means surprise or even shock your readers. However, in order to have a lasting impact, the drama should be true to your story and your characters. For a masterclass on how to generate intrigue, comedy, and pathos, I thoroughly recommend reading Liane Moriarty’s novels. The best drama develops naturally, is authentic, and has delicious or devastating consequences.

60-Day Edit Tip #5 by @WendyProof: Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama. #85K90 #amediting Click To Tweet

About Wendy Janes

A freelance proofreader and editor, Wendy Janes works with publishers and individual authors. She is also a caseworker for The National Autistic Society’s Education Rights Service. Author of short stories and the novel, What Jennifer Knows, she loves to take real life and turn it into fiction. She lives in London with her husband and youngest son. You can discover more about Wendy via her website, where you’ll also find contact details if you’d like to get in touch.

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Julie Valerie

Julie Valerie

85K Writing Challenge: Embracing the writing life by advancing the practice of productive writing from first word to first reader.

11 thoughts on “Avoid confusing your readers: five simple editing tips by Wendy Janes

  1. I’ve fallen foul – fall foul! – of all of these at one point or other, though I do think Indie authors should show off their vocab a bit more than they do, to be honest. And Trads, to tell you the truth. Good post, Wendy.

    1. Hi Mark,

      Your comment made me smile. I recently caught myself writing “boldfaced lie” when it should have read “bald-faced lie.” I figured a flat-out lie could be placed in boldface type? Right? No?

      Bald-faced just seemed odd to me . . .

      Correct: Bald-faced lie
      Incorrect: Boldfaced lie


  2. I wish I had the skill as a writer to confuse my readers on purpose. In the meantime, I’ll settle for trying not to do it accidentally! Names can be such fun – are there any authors who haven’t changed their mind about a character, mid-way through the book? I know I do it at least once per novel.

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