It has long been my policy to Underpromise and Overdeliver … and it appears I have done entirely the opposite this time. There's no way I'll be able to squeeze in all the editing tips I'd been hoping to share - not in detail, anyway. I have a whole heap of excuses, but who needs to hear all that? So please forgive me, and I will do my darndest to get back to that policy in 2012!
Okay. Here we go with the final 7 tips:
Get rid of words you don't need.
These lists a few of the top "most used and unnecessary" words and phrases. Do a Search for them when you're done your manuscript and cut or alter when you can. Too many words make your reader yawn. Sometimes the words can just be deleted, sometimes the whole sentence needs to be rearranged. And sometimes the words are perfect and you should just let them be. Read these sentences aloud, first of all using the unnecessary word, then trying it without. Smoother?
- That … "She told me that it would be possible"
- There was … "She told me there was no way it could be done." (makes it a passive sentence) "She told me it couldn't be done." (active)
- Just … "I just wanted to do it."
- Really … "I was really glad she'd said that." or use a better word: "I was thrilled she'd said that."
- Was … "The problem was being discussed by management." (passive) "Management discussed the problem." (active, and usually preferred)
- Quite … "Everything about the problem was quite difficult."
- Very … "Everything about the problem was very difficult."
Acknowledge your characters' traits.
He's not just "John". He's a man. What kind of man?
He's a somewhat stooped, tall man whose shirt is constantly ironed but gives the impression it fought him all the way. He has a voice that makes you want to clear your throat when he's speaking, if only to help him clear that "ahem" trapped in there. His dull brown eyes are either downcast or looking away, suggesting disappointment in himself, lack of self-confidence. Though he shaves every day, he always misses that little patch under his right ear. He takes short steps and watches the ground as he walks.
Don't combine "And" with "Then".
Choose one or the other.
- "She buttoned up her coat, and then reached for an umbrella."
- "She buttoned up her coat and reached for an umbrella." (this is weak because it suggests she's doing it simultaneously. Notice the comma disappears because the second phrase is dependent.)
- "She buttoned up her coat then reached for an umbrella." You can see her doing it now, can't you?
"She opened her tiny suitcase and stared fearfully at the pile of clothes she'd have to squeeze in. She'd have to make room for ten shirts, four pairs of pants, socks, underwear, a skirt for the party, three different kinds of shoes, her mousse and hair products, make-up, and a winter coat."
"She opened her tiny suitcase and stared fearfully at the pile of clothes she'd have to squeeze in. Besides the mandatory socks and underwear, she'd have to make room for ten shirts and four pairs of pants. Those were obvious. She'd need a skirt for the party, and that meant she'd have to fit in not only her two regular pairs of shoes, but a fancy pair as well. With resignation, she puffed through her lips, sounding somewhat like a horse. She'd have to make herself presentable, so she'd need all her hair products as well as make-up. And crowning it all, she'd have to stuff in her big, fat, down winter jacket. How was she going to manage all that?"
Avoid "I feel" or "he felt".
That's way too easy, and way too boring. Instead of
"He felt the night descending"
put him right out there and experience it with him.
"His skin prickled as darkness shadowed the woods; the lack of sunshine sent shivers of uneasiness tickling down his spine."
Explore all the senses.
It doesn't all have to be in one sentence, because that can be overwhelming, but you can try. This first example is a clean but dull example. The second takes in all—or most of—the senses, brings your reader into that room with your character.
"Jenny stepped acros the room and smelled Clara baking a birthday cake."
"The worn grey planks creaked as Jenny's bare feet shuffled across the floor, and she shivered at the chilling evidence that it was mid-January. She should have taken the time to search out her cracked old moccasins, hidden somewhere in the dust beneath her bed. From under the kitchen door seeped an almost sickly sweet aroma of vanilla, and she realized Clara had remembered her birthday. The clanging of pots and Clara's muttered curses confirmed it."
Enjoy what you're doing
If you're writing for the money, you've chosen the wrong career path.
The dream of writing, of expressing oneself through words, comes from something much deeper than your wallet. Write to open your spirit and let your imaginings fly. Write to lose yourself in chills and tears and laughter that come purely from your own imagination. Write to feel the pride of accomplishment and see proof of what you've created on your screen or page. Write because the thoughts are trapped in your heart and need to be set free.
Sure, being published may eventually become a priority, but never make it the priority. Writing is for you, not your bank account. Let it set you free.
take time for yourself.
See you in 2012!