Let’s face it: editing is the hardest, most grueling part of writing. Putting the words on a page is the fun part, making those words sound great is an entirely different beast.
Here are 3 things that I’ve learned along the way to help tighten up my manuscripts and stay on target.
1. Word Search Is Your Best Friend.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m cranking through my novel I tend to repeat certain words. A lot. As in, how many freaking times do I use the word ‘felt!’ She felt this, she felt that, she felt stronger, she felt as if she knew him etc. etc. etc.!! I don’t know why authors tend to cling to particular words, probably just to put words on the page and get through a scene. But it’s important that you don’t keep the 3,000 ‘felts’ or whatever your word of choice is in your novel, and word search helps immensely.
First, I make a list of all the words I repeat during my initial read-through of my manuscript. Sometimes, it can be actual phrases. I seriously punch myself every time whenever I catch: “That was when…” in my writing!
Once I have a list, I search the entire book for these words or phrases. You’d be amazed at how it forces you to re-arrange or re-create your sentences. It makes your work stronger and ends up helping you in your next novel because you learn not to use those words and phrases so much.
Of course, they’re replaced by entirely new words, but the cycle must continue, right?!
2. Limiting the amount of sentences that start with a pronoun.
Starting every sentence with ‘He’ or ‘She’ can become boring to read. Do a quick search as you read through your book and if you have two or three sentences in a row that start with a pronoun change the middle one up.
An easy way to do that is to take the verb of the sentence and place it first.
For example if the original sentence is: “She ran to the park and played on the jungle gym.”
You could change it to: “Running to the park, Sarah played on the jungle gym.”
Reminding the reader of the character’s name is never a bad idea either!
3. If a sentence feels too long and clunky, it probably is.
This is an easy way to clean up your book. If you find yourself zoning out by the end of one of your sentences or paragraphs, then you can bet your reader will too. Even if it’s grammatically correct, longer sentences can be tedious to read. (With the exception of “Stream of Consciousness” books, then it’s their purpose!)
Here’s an example of a sentence I had to break up in my manuscript today:
“The paranoid part of her couldn’t help but worry that if there was written proof that she knew every detail of a murder that the police would think she was the killer.”
This was clunky and hard to follow. So I changed it to this:
“Paranoia threatened to overwhelm her. Knowing every detail of a crime would make her look guilty. How would Mara be able to explain her journal to the police when they arrested her for murder?”
The same meaning, but told through three shorter sentences instead of one long one.
Hope this helps!
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I'm a writer of YA fiction, fiction, comics, television and movies. I try to make all my stories full of jumbly goodness :-)