Monday, November 29, 2010

Self-Editing Tips


by Sherry Wilson

You can tighten your prose and make it more accurate by reducing modifiers and eliminating extraneous words. Let me show you how.

1. Start with your completed manuscript. Now delete every second adjective or adverb and re-read the story. Do you miss any of them? You can always put them back later but first, try to strengthen the noun or verb that it modifies. Is there a more active verb you can use? (eg. Strolled, sauntered, ambled, or shuffled instead of walked.) Is there a more concrete noun you can use? (eg. Runners, loafers, sandals, Nikes or army boots instead of shoes.) Think about the mental picture you are creating. Sauntered gives us a very different image than shuffled; someone wearing sandals would project a different image than someone wearing army boots. Every word you use must contribute to your story.

2. Once you are confident that you need all of the remaining modifiers, use your word processor to search for fillers such as: began to, started to, going to, etc. You can generally delete these as they dilute your verbs and contribute little to the story.

For example:
She started to walk toward the door.
He began to gather wood for the fire.


Can be rewritten as:
She walked toward the door. Or better yet: She plodded to the door.
He gathered wood for the fire. Or: He gathered wood to build a fire.


3. Finally, do a search for “it was,” “there were,” “it is,” “there are,” etc. Try to eliminate as many of these as possible by restructuring the sentence.

For example:
There were several long tables filled with salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.
This can be rewritten like this:
Long tables groaned under salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.
Or:
Long tables overflowed with salads, fresh fruit, sandwiches, pies, cakes and other rich desserts.

Stronger verbs and fewer modifiers tighten your writing. What's more, they reduce the number of words used, so you have extra to "spend" on important things.

Following these steps with all of your manuscripts will result in crisper, clearer and more saleable writing.
(c) 2010 Sherry Wilson

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