So there are few good writing tips that I’ve found along the way in my journey of writing and editing… and these are things I’ve found out the hard way, too. Most of them are tiny, but make a huge impact on the quality of your writing. But since they are tiny, I can’t write a full post about each of them. Instead, here they are, all in one post: three quick and easy edits to improve your writing.
And if you’re writing now, not editing, keep reading. These tips are going to help you, too, and probably save you a monster-load of editing in the future.
We use a lot of words in our books. Like, a whole lot. It’s a lot of work when you have to go back and make sure that every single one of those hundred thousand words is the best one for the story. That’s why a lot of people hate editing (though I am warming up to it a little more…). It’s a lot of work.
So how can you make the changes of word choice impact the reader, and pull them into the story? Firstly, it’s important to do this because you are making your story more effective. Secondly, here is how you are going to focus your search on word change:
If you go word by word, the story starts to feel technical and boring. That’s not good because it shuts down your creativity, the thing that is actually making your book good. Instead, make this a word search. There are certain words that you want to focus on with this word analyzing/changing part of editing.
Verbs. Whenever something happens or is described in the story, it pulls the reader in. The actions and states of being that come along with verbs are what reel the reader back in every time you have to add in those less-interesting scenes. With the right verbs, you can make any bland situation seem like a knife fight.
Instead of saying that the antagonist walked up to the protagonist with anger in her eyes, say that she “stomped” or “trekked” up to the protagonist. It better conveys her anger than the bland, generic word of “walked”.
Though verbs are commonly highlights of sentences, other parts of the sentence can be changed to show what something is like or how something is. This can be with verbs or adjectives or even other parts of speech.
Here’s an example. Tonight I was editing my own novel, and I came across this ending to a sentence: “… the money still in my hand.”
Though “in” is a preposition, it could be more effective as another part of speech. I changed the ending of my sentence to “… the money still gripped in my hand.” That gives a better image in mind of the reader.
The point is, by changing your bland and generic words to more descriptive and tone-setting words, you can better paint a picture for the reader and pull them further into the story.
Narrating the story is great. Some authors have a separate narrator for their story, the one who actually tells the story while it’s happening. And a lot of times, that works out pretty good. When done right, it can enhance the story. A good example of success with this is The Book Thief. (And, of course, The Tale of Desperaux)
But if you don’t have a narrator who’s sole purpose is to tell the story, then stop telling it. Show it. I know a lot of writers say to do this, and for good reason. And a lot of us think that we are showing the story, until we actually realize what they meant by that. Take a look at your writing. Highlight everything that is written in a random chapter that includes conscious actions and descriptions. All of that in between, like when the main character is reflecting on their past or thinking to themselves or explaining stuff to the reader… that’s not good. I don’t know about you, but when I write my first drafts, I write a lot of fluff like that.
The reader wants to learn through dialogue and actions and situations. Not through the character’s inner thoughts, unless they are important to the plot. The character having a sudden realization of what they’ve learned on their journey towards the end of the story? Good. The character giving a paragraph on the biography of their best friend in a constant stream of consciousness? Not so good.
However, you can make full (hopefully short) chapters that are dedicated to this stream of consciousness thing. Just don’t mix it in with real things that are happening unless it should actually be there. When you can’t show it through dialogue or actions right away, but the reader still needs to know about it.
Why? The telling of the story dramatically slows down the story. Sure, some parts of the story are going to be slower and faster, but if in your ten page chapter your character walks down to get the mail and back… that might be a little too slow. Of course, there are exceptions and it varies for each genre, but generally, you need things to happen in your story to keep the reader interested. And in today’s world of instant gratification, that means that things need to be interesting and not constantly put on a stop-and-go basis because of your character’s inner thoughts.
This one is pretty simple. It is common knowledge that describing your scene is important to the story because it is going to give your reader a better image of what is happening in the story, with the characters and in their setting.
The problem with description varies. Either there isn’t enough to give the reader a good picture of the story, or you tend to fall to my side of the problems. You either have too little description or too much, like me.
In my second chapter of HMB, a character is in a high-pressure fast-paced situation. My chapters are all really short, usually somewhere from two thousand words to less than a thousand (there’s a reason for that because of the story) and, consequently, there are over a hundred of them. For the second chapter, I only showed a flash of this action, yet I managed to get over a thousand words into that chapter, somehow. Way over. For the little amount of what I showed that was happening, I didn’t need that much description. Seriously.
I ended up cutting it down to about 600 words, purely because the description slowed down the sense of high-pressure fast-paced action that was part of the story. If it were a slow, lazy chapter, I might have let that description stick around a little more, but I had to judge it based on the chapter itself.
I’m one of those people who will write a book in the beginning as 140,000 words because I’ll go into every stitch on the couch and every expression of every character and every brick on every building. Don’t worry, everyone. This is what editing is for. Some things, you have to leave up to the reader to imagine.
(HMB started out as 120,000… not even my longest novel…)
Tonight’s challenge for you is to take into account each of these tips to see if they can help improve your writing somehow. Just compare them to one chapter or one page or even to just one scene of your story, and see how well you can improve your writing.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!