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Edit out the habits: How to Improve Work

There are certainly a few recurring ‘snags’ as it were in the cloth of my carefully constructed words. By editing and work-shopping I’ve been lucky to identify the trends in my work that make it less accessible to the reader. If you have to work hard to read something, then you’re more inclined to give up part-way though. For my rambling thoughts on what puts me off reading a story, there is a post here: Scared of Reading – actually funny story. I started writing this blog post and it originally turned into that one. So I decided to split it into two complete and hopefully coherent articles! Fingers are crossed.

But here are the trends that I learnt to look out for in my work.

  1. Passive verbs passive verbs.

My characters had many limbs that did things for them, but instead I needed to just write, that the characters –did-the-thing- much simpler, much clearer. So for example: Her hand reached out toward the glowing embers. – Passive. What would be better is: She reached toward the glowing embers. – Active. It’s just easier to imagine what the protagonist is doing.

  1. Did uh…did that just happen?

A lot tends to happen to my heroine as she goes about her journey. But I was informed, and then realised that although she reacts physically to the things around her and says things, the reader was being cut out of her thoughts. This was causing a second problem in that my reader felt disconnected from her and therefore my storytelling was less effective. The manuscript I’m working on, was supposed to have a close-third person narration, but too often it was just narration and I wasn’t as close in the third-person as I thought I was. Cue thoughts and responses! It sounds very juvenile but I listed a number of responses such as:

‘She was surprised’, ‘shocked, Sarah turned,’ ‘torn between’, ‘relieved’ etc and then used them as a prompt sheet to include things more in my writing. The result has so far been successful and feedback very positive. Hooray!

  1. Too many wonderful, amazing, blue, sparkling adjectives.

Description is a beautiful thing. However, going through everything with a cut-happy pixie on my shoulder I realised something else that I’d been previously told. I have a tendency to repeat myself. With repetition and a build-up of adjectives, some of the writing was getting lost in itself. Cut, cut, cut! And the work made more impact. I kept the best phrases and descriptions or reworked the ones I really loved and couldn’t bring myself to part with.

  1. For a moment she was a little afraid.

In a final bid to avoid unnecessary repetition in the manuscript I did a ctrl-f word search for a few phrases such as ‘For a moment’ and ‘a little’. I’ll tell you something, I use those tags far too often! I think within 30,000 words I ended up deleting them over 50 times. They didn’t add anything to the story, the plot, the description. They were filler! All they did was water down the writing and stop the protagonist committing to any particular emotion. If she was ‘A little afraid’ why is she just not afraid? If ‘she paused for a moment,’ why doesn’t she just ‘pause.’ Cut!

Everyone has different version of these phrases that they fall back on. My nemesis as I’ve started to refer to them. They’re things I don’t even remember writing! Maybe I don’t, maybe they just appear… That must be it. Those and spelling/grammar errors.

It may be worth going through any work under editing and seeing if you can find one or two and then doing a word search to find out just how many times they sneak in, pesky little things. I definitely go through additional phases of ‘word of the day’ that will sneak in over and again in a chapter if I took a shine to a certain sound when the chapter was in construction. Thank goodness for editing!

The best thing about recognising (the latest) failing of you work, is that when you go on to write new things, you are aware of them and so you make them less often. This does open up the path to making shiny new mistakes, but I like to believe that by slowly eliminating bad habits and trends I’m improving every time I do a thorough edit.

I’m sure there is even evidence to support this as whenever I write I feel it’s better than what I was able to write 6 months ago. I still need to edit the draft, but the process is less painful. I know what I’m looking for, what needs to be edited for clarity what is actually my style. Maybe I still use too many adjectives- but that is because I like long and rambling description. That is a choice, it’s not just the adjectives sneaking in a little.

What are the writing habits you have learnt to look out for? Let me know 🙂

Fibi xx

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