It's Wordy Wednesday...
...but today I'll talk about the opposite of being wordy. In particular: words to weed out before you submit your manuscript.
Start, begin, turn, look, could, and feel are the biggest culprits. As an editor reading submissions, the first thing I do is search for how these words are used. If the counter comes up in the hundreds for more than one, I return the manuscript, even if the story is good.
Here's a basic check-list to help you clear your manuscript of these pests:
1) Do your characters start do to things? Do they began to walk? Begin to speak?
Use the "find" feature in your word processor and go through your manuscript, looking for all forms of "start" and "begin" ("began", "begun").
(Note: Don't use "find & replace", because you will have to think about how to tighten most sentences where the rogue words occur.)
Here are some examples to help you:
Joe started to walk down the street.
Joe walked down the street.
Jane began to ponder her predicament.
Jane pondered her predicament.
2) Are people turning and looking and seeing? Do you have them turning to the door? Are they looking at each other when they talk? Does Bob see the path ahead of him?
Again, use the "find" feature for all three words - "turn", "look", "see" (and "saw"). Here's more examples:
He turned to the door, seeing it was partly ajar.
The door was ajar.
Hansel turned to Rachel and looked at her shimmering red dress.
Rachel's red dress shimmered.
She saw the path before her, then turned to look at Chris as she spoke. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?" Chris said.
The path stretched ahead. Chris kept pace with her, brooding. "Are you going to get over it? I told you I'm sorry."
"I need time. Weren't you listening?"
Notice in the last example how cutting those words makes the story do its own telling? Good storytelling hides a lot between the lines, so you can say more with less.
3) Check if you have a case of the "coulds". Do you find that Chuck could feel his panic rising? Or that Haley could smell the fresh rain?
Go through your manuscript, searching "could" and "feel" (don't forget "felt" and could's cousins, "should", and "might").
Alex could hear the alarm from across the room.
The alarm blared.
He might have felt fear, but he steeled himself anyway.
He steeled himself, ignoring fear.
He felt the snake slither across his leg.
The snake slithered across his leg.
Sanford could have sworn he was supposed to be at the office by eight, but he must have been wrong.
Sanford arrived at the office by eight. It was empty. He checked his calendar.
4) If you've ticked off this checklist, then you're on track. But the list goes on: said, asked, just, very, and realize, to name a few.
There are many great books on writing craft. I would personally recommend Strunk and White's, The Elements of Style and Rayne Hall's, The Word Loss Diet, as short, easy-to-follow drills that will help you make your submission shine.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
It's Wordy Wednesday...