I’m fine-tuning the novel I just finished, and these are some of the edits I’m making. They can help you as you write or edit your own novel.
1. Get rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases. When you read back through your manuscript, watch for phrases like on the table, toward the door, near the wall. These phrases bog down your writing and often add little to a description. Readers can make a lot of assumptions. If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car. You don’t have to say it.
This is especially true at the end of sentences. A good sentences ends on a strong beat. That sentence is a great of example of what I mean. If I had added usually at the end of that sentence, it would have weakened it. In my manuscript, I came across this sentence:  Katie put her waffle down on the paper in her lap. Ick!

I took off the first unnecessary phrase, then the second. Then I moved the word down to where it belongs—after the verb directing it. Now it reads: Katie put down her waffle. Much better! Nobody cares where the waffle went. The sentence is meant to show that what Katie is about to say  is so important she wants no distractions.

2. Get rid of unnecessary pronouns. Here’s how a sentence in this blog read until I edited it: If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one of them points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car.  I took out of them.  Readers know I meant the two guys, and the sentence reads better without the phrase. Other examples are phrases like himself or to me. Often you’ll discover they are unnecessary.

3. Be careful when using pronouns. I’ve gotten much better about this thanks to Stephen King’s On Writing, but I still see the problem in the fiction manuscripts I edit for others. In a confrontation scene with three guys, for example, the writer will use he and his repeatedly. It’s  confusing. In these situations, be redundant, regardless of whose POV you’re writing from. Use each man’s name every time you refer to him. Readers will appreciate it.
Jake picked up the gun and aimed it at Seth. Seth ran for the door, while Carl yelled, “Don’t do this.” Jake lowered the gun. Carl lunged at a Jake. Seth kept running.
Even a single use of he in that paragraph could have made it hard to follow.

What are you catching in your writing as you go back and edit?

  1. Thanks, LJ! Printing this puppy out. Will use it in a few days when I go through my ms that is currently “gelling.”

  2. I catch a lot of those prepositional phrases you mentioned. Other things I tend to find are using some variation on “be able to when a variation of “can” would be better – about 75% of the time i find you can get rid of be able.

    I have a whole list of things I do global searches for in editing – I don’t always remove them, but i try to. They’re pretty standard things – a whole list of adverbs, the words “several” and “that”, the classic “there were, there was, it is, etc”.

    Regarding your #3, do you think simply using the names is better than coming up with alternate ways to refer to a character? For instance, if Jake the professor is fighting Bob the killer, you might say “the professor” instead of “Jake” some of the time. Or do you think that still makes it harder to follow than being direct.

  3. I do use alternative phrases like those you mentioned—when it works. Sometimes though, it can make the scene more confusing. I try to remember that readers are less familiar with the characters than I am. They’re spending a few hours with my book, not years.

  4. In a recent workshop I attended, Donald Maass said he wishes writers would use the name of the characters more often.

    For what it’s worth.

  5. yum-yum! :-). Thanks for the share

  6. I truly want to read this.

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