This post, from Suzanne Lieurance, originally appeared on the Writers In The Sky e-zine on 7/24/09.
As writers, we hear it all the time. We need to "write tight," which just means we need to trim all the flab from our manuscripts and make every word count.
Here are some self-editing tips that will help you "write tight" and take your manuscripts from flabby to fit for publication in no time!
1. Avoid a lot of back story – information about the POV character’s history and background. Weave all this into the story instead of loading the manuscript down with too many sentences or paragraphs of straight narrative before the action begins.
2. Simplify your sentences wherever possible. Watch for redundant or unnecessary phrases. As writers, we need to "show, not tell" as often as possible. Yet, some writers tend to show and then tell the same information, which is redundant. Watch out for this in your manuscripts. Also, look for the redundant phrases below and others like them.
Stand up = stand
Sit down = sit
Turned back = turned
Turned around = turned
He thought to himself = He thought.
She shrugged her shoulders = she shrugged
She whispered softly = she whispered
He nodded his head = he nodded
3. Avoid adverbs for the most part. Use strong, descriptive verbs instead.
Flabby: She smiled slightly at the photographer.
Fit: She grinned at the photographer.
4. Avoid using the same word over and over in a paragraph. Go back and reread each sentence. Have you repeated the same word several times within a single sentence or paragraph? If so, substitute another word with the same meaning.
5. Don’t overuse names. Beginning writers tend to have the characters address each other by name too often. When you speak to a friend, you don’t constantly say his name. Don’t have your characters do this either. It doesn’t ring true, and it draws the reader OUT of the story.