First of all, take a bow. Well done! You planted your bum in a chair, used your imagination, and wrote a story. Do you know how many people can’t do this? I don’t know the exact amount, but I’m certain there are many.
Now it’s time to saw away unnecessary words. Why? Because you’re a writer and writers are word junkies who tend to use too many words. Too often.
And too many needless words make readers stop reading.
Below are ten tips that will make you sound more professional. I promise.
1. Read your scene out loud.
What does this have to do with editing? Try it and you’ll know what I mean. If you stumble on a word, it’s for a reason. Go back and change the sentence until it flows. Some computers have a speech function in the edit menu that allows a voice to read your text. I use Scrivener, a novel-writing software. It has this feature. I use it. My family laughs. Sometimes I do, too.
If you’re really brave you can read it to your friend, your baby brother, or your dog. (If he howls that’s probably not a good sign.)
2. Cut out unnecessary words.
A few examples: that, as well, just, even. If you omit the word and it doesn’t change the meaning of your sentence, you probably don’t need it.
3. Delete attributions. (said, asked, whispered, replied)
Give your character an action in the paragraph so the reader knows who’s speaking. If you do this effectively then you don’t need to say, he said, or she said.
4. Hack out adverbs.
Go into your search this document or your find bar and type in the letters ly to scan your scene or document. Do this quickly, positively, and shamelessly. Delete the adverbs and replace with strong verbs.
5. Sleep on it.
This is my favorite part. Sleep. I do it well. If you leave your wip (work-in-progress) for a few days and come back to it the next day your mistakes will shout at you.
This is kind of like the sleep thing only it burns more calories. If you walk away from your work and get your heart rate up, it’ll stimulate your creative energy. When you return, you might see a more direct or creative way of showing something.
If you’ve said it once, don’t say it again. Otherwise your reader will feel insulted. They’ll get it if you tell them once.
8. Chop out passive sentences.
Verbs like was, are, is, be are examples of weak verbs. Use your find feature to check your manuscript for these little buggers. When you see one try to change the sentence to an active verb. Not sure what a passive sentence is? See my examples below, but watch for a future post about this in more detail.
Active: Teachers prepare exams. Passive: Exams are prepared by teachers.
Active: Quinn sent the text. Passive: The text was sent by Quinn.
9. Consult your Thesaurus.
You don’t have to look far. It’s in your tool bar under Tools. For instance, if you see the word made and want to find a stronger verb do a quick peek, and I’m confident you’ll find a more powerful one. Editors and teachers love strong verbs. So do readers.
10. Read it backwards.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? When you read a sentence backwards you’re more apt to see misspelled words, forgotten periods, and needed apostrophes.
Try these tips. Take a word count before and after and let me know how many words you were able to saw off. Also, what’s the strongest verb you used today?