It’s summer and Ruth is buried under a mountain of editing on her novel due to her agent soon soon. Gwynn is buried under last-minute prep for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts running Sept 16 to Oct 2. Sooo…. we decided that we would rerun one of our most popular blogs because the tips in this list never grow old and we can all do with a reminder now and then.
1. Get the action going
Replace passive, weak verbs, especially forms of the verb “to be”
- Before: It was a dark and stormy night.
- After: The storm raged through the blackness.
2. Keep things moving forward by reducing the use of “had”
“Had” refers to “completed’ action. It has no forward movement. Use “had” once or twice at the start of a section/paragraph to establish the time period, then revert to simple past tense.
- Before: She had been the only one in the house, and had paid the rent faithfully each month. She had taken care of the place and had put up drapes and painted.
- After: She had been the only one in the house, and paid the rent faithfully each month. She took care of the place and put up drapes and painted.
3. Keep the action going
Delete empty words like very/somewhat/really. Energize the word being modified instead.
- Before: Despite the very hot afternoon….
- After: Despite the afternoon’s sweltering heat…
4. Keep your actions strong; beware the “-ly” adverb
Can you replace it with a stronger active verb?
- Before: He went quickly
- After: He ran – or dashed, charged, bolted…
5. Change up the senses you use in description.
We default to the sense of sight. Try replacing visual details with ones of another sense.
- Before: Anita set the gold-rimmed tea cup on the lace cloth…
- After: The tea cup rattled in the saucer as Anita placed it on the lace cloth…
6. Take your reader deeper into the world of the story
Look for named emotions (happy, sad) or physical states (fearful, tired) and replace with concrete and sensory detail.
- Before: She felt disappointed
- After: She sank onto the bench and hugged her knees
7. Keep your writing fresh
Look for tired and overused clichés. (Microsoft Word’s grammar checker notes clichés with green squiggly lines.) Create visuals that add to the story or your character.
- Before: His beard was as white as snow
- After: His beard was as white as his lab coat
8. Eliminate repetition. Eliminate repetition.
Identify any “writer’s tic” that you know you have. Phrases, descriptions, gestures and so on, rapidly lose their energy when they are overused or placed too closely together.
- How many times do your characters “roll their eyes” or “take a deep breath?”
- How many times have your told readers it’s “a red car?”
9. Keep your tricky words tamed
Are there words you constantly mispell…um…misspell? Are you working with strange names or technical terms? Keep them correct and consistent by adding them to your software’s dictionary or AutoCorrect function.
How to: Right click on the word. Choose either Add to dictionary or AutoCorrect
10. Know your country
Is it color or colour? Are they good neighbours or good neighbors? Writing for American readers, Australian readers or British readers? Incorrect spelling won’t please your publisher. Make sure your software is defaulted to the “right” English.
How to: Most MSWord programs have the language default on the bottom info bar. Left click to select your language.