Do you have a manuscript ready for others to read? Maybe you’re handing it off to critique partners, an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Before you send your draft to someone, below are a few simple tricks to help kick your story into shape.
I’ve edited and critiqued many manuscripts, and my stories have been critiqued and edited by many others as well. All in all, I’ve realized writers make the same mistakes, some more than others. Hopefully, this post will help improve your writing.
Words to Remove
I was barely out the door before he called my name.
Change this sentence to: I stepped outside and took two steps before he called my name.
It was nearly sunrise.
Change this to: It was ten minutes until sunrise.
These probaby aren't the best examples to use, because I'd try to remove the word "was" and paint the scene with beautiful imagery. But they'll give you a good idea of what I mean.
Activate Your Sentences
I was jumping for the ball.
Change the sentence to: I jumped for the ball.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Describing a character’s looks and actions is always good, but if you describe the same body part/action over in over, find other ways to replace the description. For example, if you’re constantly writing about a character’s eyes, raised brows, shrugged shoulders, pursed lips, brown hair, change it up. To help describe a character’s actions, I suggest purchasing The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. This thesaurus will give you hundreds of ways to describe emotions through a variety of actions.
Show Don't Tell
This can be tricky for writers. Even my editor will point out my "telling" mistakes at times, but I’ve come to realize that in many instances when a writer subconsciously (or consciously) is scared to write a scene, they end up “telling” it instead.
A good example of this is when chapters begin with telling the reader about something juicy that happened the day/night before. Instead of telling your reader what happened, include the scene taking place in “real time.” Readers don’t want to read about something juicy after it happens, they want to experience the juiciness as it's happening.
Another example is stating a character is sad or happy or angry. Instead of telling the reader, he looked at me with sad eyes, describe what the sad eyes look like and/or use dialogue. You could say something like, Tears streamed down his puffy face and blotchy cheeks. Or He covered his face with his hands and peeked at me through his fingers. With red eyes and a weak voice, he said, “I can’t believe she dumped me.”
Not everything needs to be “shown,” some things can be told, but if the scene is important and you want the reader to take notice of what’s occurring, then show it.
If you’re writing in first-person POV or Limited third-person POV, then be careful of telling the reader what a character—who isn’t the protagonist—feels. You can use actions from a character that makes the protagonist think she/he knows what the character is feeling, but the protagonist can’t know for sure. In these instances, you can write that the character seems or appears to be (sad, happy, angry). Or you can allow the character to tell the protagonist exactly what he or she is feeling.
I use the free version of Grammarly and live by it every day. The program isn’t always correct, but it catches many misspellings and misused words that I miss. The best thing is it can be programmed to work directly in Word, so that you don’t have to copy and paste your work into the Grammarly app.
Hemingway Editor isn’t free, but it doesn’t cost much. This program will point out long sentences that can be shortened, overused adverbs and adjectives, confusing structures, etc.
By using these two programs together, you’ll definitely improve your writing.
I hope these tips and tricks have helped you. Editing can be difficult, and some writers can’t afford editors, but no matter what your circumstances are, try to have other people read your finished manuscript to point out mistakes you've missed. Even though I hire an editor, proofreaders also read my finished manuscript before it's published.
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