Revisions and edits are all about making a novel and the prose in it better. I’m sure I’m not alone in my quest to better my writing, and I bet authors who are successful also share this trait. I’m probably also not alone in sometimes staring at my screen and thinking, “Okay, what do I do now to become a better writer?”
Here are five ways you can give your writing a boost:
Pump Up the Words
There are some very solid and useful words out there, but they are also opportunities to snaz a sentence up.
- Look: Not so much the “he looked around” variety (though those are good spots to rethink), but more in the “he looked worried” type. There are better ways to show someone being worried, especially if your POV is looking at them when they make this observation. If it’s about the POV, then you have even more options for a stronger sentence.
- Need: This falls in line with my “don’t be too obvious about the goals” idea. “I needed to get out of there” is a fine goal statement, but it can be better. There are ways to show that need, dramatize it so it fleshes out that serviceable line and makes it sing.
- Want: Ditto here. “It wasn’t enough, he wanted more” can go deeper and make the reader feel that want, that desire. Tap into the emotion that makes the character want what they want.
Other words along this line to watch out for: Wondered, realized, knew, thought, saw, felt, watched, etc. Words that generally describe what might be better implied with specifics.
(Here's more on mental signposts that tell, not show)
I read a wonderful post from Edittorrent about making an impact by what isn’t said that really got me thinking. This is a great way to add depth and let the reader figure things out on their own.
Try looking for places where you describe things that are missing and see how you might allude to that. Or things that are there that maybe no one wants to come right out and say, like the elephant in the room. Look for any place where you can cut a stated detail and suggest more is going on without coming right out and saying it.
Break it Up
I remember when I was writing The Shifter, someone in my writer’s group commented that they loved how I skipped the transitional stuff and went right to the next scene. I’ve always loved scene breaks and how they let me control my pacing.
Try looking for transitional text. You know, those paragraphs where you describe something going from one place to another, or a jump in time. Sometimes all you need is a line break to add a sense of progress, but often you can cut them entirely and end one scene on a cool “ooo” moment or line, then jump ahead to the next scene when things start happening again. You trim out the boring stuff and tighten up the story.
(Here's more on making the most of your adjectives)
To Be, is Not To Be
Yeah, we all know those pesky “to be” verbs are trouble spots, but how often do we really go in and edit them out? I’m like everyone else, daunted by how tedious that find and rewrite can be. If we want to improve the next book, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Try doing a find for to be verbs. (is, am, are, was, were, has, have, had, do, does, did, been, being, etc). Get rid of what you can and rewrite the sentence with stronger verbs. Will it be a pain? Probably. But worth it.
(Here's more on eliminating prepositions)
Neither Here nor There
Here and there are worlds that slip in and we don’t notice, but they do tend to hang around with potentially meh text. “There was a red wagon on the sidewalk, abandoned, alone.” You can snaz up something like this easy: “A red wagon waited on the sidewalk, abandoned and alone.”
Just like the “to be” verbs, try doing a find for here and there and rewriting the sentence to eliminate it.
Not Everything Has to Go
Bear in mind that not every instance of these words or situations needs to be changed. These aren’t must-dos or anything, but places that commonly flatten than the rest of your prose. If the sentence is strong, fits the story and you like how it works, leave it. But if you think you can make it better, go for it. These are revision opportunities, nothing more.
What areas are you working to improve right now?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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