Pointers from the Pros: Editor Marilyn Brigham Offers Insight into the Editor’s Eye

Pointers from the Pros” gives tips from authors and publishing industry professionals on everything from craft to querying to their experiences on the road to publication.*

I attended the 2011 SCBWI MD/DE/WV’s Spring into Action conference in Buckeystown, Md., with some of my favorite-evers. As usual, I took a ton of notes at all the faboo sessions I was lucky enough to attend—and I’m sharing some of those tips with my lovely blog readers. (Thanks for being so fabulous, BTW!)

Here are some of Marshall Cavendish editor Marilyn Brigham’s tips from her session, “The Editor’s Eye: Powerful Word Choice & Sentence Structure”:


  • Repetition
    • Of words or phrases (betas & crit partners can be of great help with this)
    • Single word repeated on the same page or in the same paragraph (this is what she finds to be the most common)
    • Search for these words in particular, which she says tend to be repeated a lot:
      • just
      • then
      • so
      • anyway
      • even
      • but
      • really
      • very
    • “Echoed” words can be a repetitive too:
      • unfair, unfairness
      • though, although
      • like, dislike
    • Other tired phrases:
      • of course
      • I was like
      • I couldn’t help but wonder
    • You can repeat ideas as well—remember: don’t hit your readers over the head with it
  • Adult language
    • It depends what is appropriate for the book, age group, story, etc.
    • Be on the lookout for out-of-date language/stuff that makes it sound like an adult writing for kids (i.e., HUNK vs. HOTTIE or “Being with Mike is WONDERFUL” = meh—find a more kid-friendly way to say it)
    • Sometimes you should bring it down & sometimes you should elevate it
  • Clichés
    • Just don’t!
  • Clutter
    • Adverbs!  (most are unnecessary—if you choose a stronger verb, you render the adverbs redundant)
    • Here’s why:

“The radio blared loudly.”

Blared is strong enough a verb on its own.  It’s redundant with the adverb loudly.

  • Too many adjectives!
    • This is what we call “purple prose”
    • It speaks down to the reader
  • Unnecessary prepositions:

“Slowed down traffic”

When you’re slowing something, the “down” is implied.


  • Take cues from the genre
    • In a book about soccer, use a metaphor that relates to soccer—it adds flavor:

“I danced around like I won the World Cup.”

  • Take cues from the narrator
    • What would the narrator notice?
    • How would he or she say it?
  • Use parallel structure in some sentences—it can add extra punch:

I came. I saw. I conquered.

  • Use active voice:

Passive: The letter way mailed by dad.

Active: Dad mailed the letter.


  • In YA: dystopian
  • In picture books: “Going to sleep” books”
  • In all of juvenile lit: perennial subjects

For a complete recap of the conference, see author Laura Bowers’s post here.


8 thoughts on “Pointers from the Pros: Editor Marilyn Brigham Offers Insight into the Editor’s Eye

  1. This is one of the best “Pointers” ever! So useful. Worth saving in that ever important email folder where you keep all the good stuff. Thank you, Ricki!

  2. This was wonderful! I’m glad she included repeated words on the list. I did a search for a few of those a few days ago, and I couldn’t believe how many times certain ones popped up! Oops.

    As for popular themes, the addition of going-to-bed books cracked me up. I specifically looked for those for my daughter because, hey, we all need sleep, and if a few books will help, then I’m all for it.

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