For me, the last four months have been filled with conferences & writing weekends, reading, writing, revising, critiquing, and lots of contests. Which means I’ve had plenty of chances to read not only my work, but the work of other writers. I’m not an expert, but I’m happy to pass along what I’ve learned in the hopes it will help someone along the way.
I’ve noticed a few things that pop up again and again, and therefore, really stand out. Here’s a little round-up of some things you should watch for as you write- and that you should check for after you write as well. **Stay tuned for some super helpful writing tools at the bottom of the post!**
Sentence variety. Shorter and longer sentences have their purposes, but there needs to be a mix of the two to get the right effect. This, along with grammar and word choice, is one of the biggest factors in having a smooth flow to your writing.
Overused words. We all have these and once you know what they are, you can search and get rid of words you use too often- or make an effort to leave them out as you write. It doesn't mean you can't use them, just use them sparingly. What are those words? The ones I’ve seen most often are that, had, and just. But you might have your own too.
*Photo by Arkadiusz Szymczak
Adjectives/Adverbs. Agents and editors are always saying they don't want them and writing books suggest you don't use them. It doesn't mean you can't use them some of the time, but it's better to let the dialogue and action speak for itself. You can also find other ways to describe things, rather than using common adjectives and adverbs.
Dialogue Tags. Writing advice usually suggests using said and asked most of the time. Of course you can use something else when it’s called for, like whispered, but for the most part, other tags are often distracting and unnecessary. Especially when there are a lot of them. And make sure the tags describe the act of speaking, NOT an action unrelated to speech. You cannot shrug, smile, laugh, or even yawn words. You might do these things AS you speak, but it’s not the same action as speaking them.
*Photo by Milan Jurek
Filter Words. Readers want to experience things as the characters do, not hear about it from outside of the characters. Don’t tell us the mc sees something- show us what she sees. Examples of filter words are see, saw, looked, heard, and felt. These words take the reader out of the story. Plus, you don't really need them and it's stronger without them. Click here for a post on this topic with ways to get rid of filter words.
So, how do you clean up your manuscript?
You can do a search by using function F5 to find each time you use a certain word. You don't have to change them all, but it's a good idea to make sure you take some of them out. *If you use Find & Replace, be careful. You might want to check “find whole words only” –otherwise it will change any words that contain the “replace” word!
Pro Writing Aid has a free program that will check for things like overused words, sentence variety, repeated phrases, adverbs, and even dialogue tags. (A Premium version is available, but the free version is plenty and you can do a chapter at a time.)
The Emotion Thesaurus is a great tool for adding more “showing” into your writing. It can help with issues of overused words, adjectives/adverbs, and filter words. A PDF version is $4.99 and the paperback is $9.77. Also, be sure to browse The Bookshelf Muse website for even more resources! From their website, “this brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each.”
Revising is work, for sure, but it also gets you where you need to go. Have fun with it. You’re making your story clear and easy to read for whoever gets his or her lucky little hands on it. :)