In a previous post I talked about Show, Don’t Tell in the narrative. Today, I’d like to expand on that as well as show a few ways to tighten our writing. Hopefully, you’ll find it useful in your work. I’m one of those crazy people who enjoy editing. Once we learn what to look for, it doesn’t seem as labor intensive.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in.
In a first draft it’s easy to have long, unbroken passages of exposition, narration, and dialogue. But, believe it or not, that’s a form of telling and/or info. dumping. To avoid this, try to break those passages with action, conflict, body language, and subtext.
A couple of examples are…
Add sensory details
This is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing gets the reader more immersed in our stories than to let them feel the scene by triggering their senses. Sight is the most used sense. We’re visual creatures. To add to the image try utilizing the other senses too: touch, taste, smell, hear. The Emotional Thesaurus is a fantastic resource for this.
Analogies and metaphors
Love them! Anyone who’s read an ARC of Marred can tell you I load my stories with them. To me, nothing paints a better picture than using analogies and metaphors. Here’s the trick. When choosing what to compare I match the analogy/metaphor to the scene. For instance, if I’m writing a dark scene, I’ll relate it to death or danger in some way. If I’m writing a lighter scene, I might relate it something spiritual, loving, humorous, nature, animals…anything that will capture the scene more vividly.
He shuddered like someone was dancing on his grave.
You might think “was dancing” is passive voice, but it’s not. The action is still happening. For a more in-depth look at passive voice check out Passive Voice Unmasked!
The morning sun reached through the window with spear-like fingers as if God himself nudged me awake.
The fat woman climbed on the bar stool the way cowboys straddled a horse.
Writing Tics & Filler Words
We all have them. When I go through my first draft I’m amazed at how many litter my manuscript. To tighten our writing we need to cut the fluff. Here a few words to avoid:
And (at the beginning of a sentence)
Let’s break it down.
This word almost always can be avoided.
Example: I just wanted to try it.
Better: I wanted to try it.
Best: I yearned to try ___________ (be specific about the action).
Of course, “try” isn’t the best word, either. Our characters should do, not try.
This word creeps in when you least suspect it. At least for me it does. Often times it can be deleted without any harm to the sentence.
Example: I knew that he told her I was unfaithful.
Better: I knew he told her I was unfaithful.
Best: He told her I was unfaithful. (<- stay in deep POV. “Knew” is a telling word.)
So (at the beginning of a sentence)
Instead of: So, this man glared at me with volcanic eyes.
Try: He glared at me with volcanic eyes.
By itself there’s nothing wrong with the word, but it’s always better to be specific.
Instead of: He owned these little cameras he could hide anywhere.
Try: He owned tiny cameras he could hide anywhere.
Or: He owned miniscule cameras he could hide anywhere.
This once took a while to master. The way I determine if it’s needed or not is by reading the sentence with and without it. Does the sentence still make sense, or does it sound odd?
Example: She bolted out of the door and across the road.
Try: She bolted out the door and across the road.
Example: The cat traveled inside of a carrier.
Try: The cat traveled inside a carrier.
Up (with certain actions)
Example: He rose up from the table.
Try: He rose from the table.
Example: He stood up.
Try: He stood.
Same here. Down is not needed with certain actions.
Example: He sat down.
Try: He sat.
We all know how to sit. There’s no need for “down.”
Example: He glanced down at the floor.
We know the floor is “down.”
Better: He glanced at the floor.
Or: He hung his head (if he moved his whole head and not only his eyes).
And (at the beginning of a sentence)
Admittedly, this one I had a hard time letting go of. I’m not saying we should never use “and.” Perish the thought. Try to delete most of them, though, and see how much tighter the sentence becomes.
Example: And he was the most caring man I’d ever met.
Try: He was the most caring man I’d ever met.
This isn’t always possible to delete, either. Most times, however, you can delete “but” at the start of a sentence and where you can break sentences into two.
Instead of: My wife loves cats, but I prefer dogs.
Try: My wife loves cats. I prefer dogs.
Want is a telling word. It needs to go.
Example: I wanted the chocolate cake.
Better: I drooled over the chocolate cake.
Sometimes we need to add a few words to help create a better image.
Best: I drooled over the chocolate cake. One bite. What could it hurt?
As you can see, the last example immerses the reader in the story. Remain in your character’s POV at all times.
There are tons of ways of to avoid came/went. Be specific.
Example: I went to the store to buy my favorite ice cream. (boring!)
Better: I shuffled to Marco’s General Store to buy butter almond pecan ice cream, my favorite.
Best: After shuffling to Marco’s General Store, I hoarded the butter almond pecan ice cream and swatted a hand at whoever neared.
In the last example it’s obvious this character loves butter almond pecan ice cream. We don’t need to tell our reader it’s her favorite.
Delete and it will have no effect on the sentence. I believe a few in dialogue are okay (sporadically), though my editor might disagree. *awkward smile*
Example: The elephant’s trunk was really big.
Try: The elephant’s trunk was enormous.
Example: The muscle-bound man was very strong.
Try: The muscle-bound man could lift a Volkswagen over his head.
Often times we can delete “had” and still remain in the correct tense. Too many had words give the reader the impression the action took place prior to the story we’re telling. As a guide, used once in a sentence puts the action in past tense. Twice is repetitive and clutters the writing. Also, if it’s clear the action is in the past, it can often be omitted.
Example: I had gazed at the painting for hours and the eyes didn’t move.
Try: For hours I gazed at the painting and the eyes never moved.
If you’ve read the previous post, you might remember the deep POV words to avoid. Here’s a quick recap:
Words that “tell” rather than show.
Search for the following words and substitute another verb to make the action stronger.
Try: sashayed, strutted, sauntered, ambled, scuttled, bustled…
Try: shoved, slammed, heaved, etc…
Try: yanked, tugged, etc…
Try: carried, delivered, etc…
Avoid prepositional phrases
At the end of a sentence these phrases are implied. In deep POV the reader knows who’s narrating. End the sentence on a power word. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but I try to change as many as I can without compromising the overall effect.
Example: Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was to her.
Better: Seeing him today proved what a complete distraction he was.
Best: Seeing him today proved he was still a complete distraction.
The last example ends on a power word.
Instead of: She stared in speechless dismay at him.
Try: She stared in speechless dismay.
Hope this helps! I’m off to continue my edits for Wings of Mayhem.
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