I love a good metaphor. Similes make me smile. Describe, describe, describe! Isn’t that the expectation of a writer?
My answer? To an extent.
Sometimes I run with language too far in my manuscripts. This morning, as I peered out my window, the season called to me, and I listened. How timely that I am editing my book in October. Instead of combing over every sentence for mistakes, I imagined myself gripping a rake with both hands. With momentum, I pulled its teeth across the cold ground, collecting excess words, disguised in bright bursts of gold and russet. Then, with a glimpse of regret, I heaved them into the green yard waste bin.
What am I talking about? Using precise language to avoid wordiness and bring clarity to a story.
More than a few typos, the unneeded words I found in my manuscript had been lovely in their prime. All those extra description words and lines of explanation shimmered on the page. In my eyes, they shined spring green and leathery fresh. For a while, my excess words played an important phase in my writing process. They helped flush out my story idea from my head to the page. They helped set the mood of my book. They helped me finish. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now…knee deep with my editor, preparing my book for publication.
I am a wordy one, I know that about myself. The literary world calls it purple prose. I am that dinner plate dahlia that leans over the garden gate. Therefore, it’s critical for me to prune each sentence to make it readable, yet still beautiful, in a precise way.
For me, I struggle with the poet inside. She wants to come out in everything I write. But spring and summer have come and gone. Autumn’s coolness demands more precision. If I want my book ready for the masses by 2021, I must prune the words that could potentially distract, or even confuse the reader.
How to do this?
As a newer author, I haven’t figured out all the tricks yet. However, below are some tips I follow now, and hopefully remember to use when immersing myself in editing. It is easy for writers to get lost in their words…or more likely, to become attached. Editing a book is about tough love. Some days I have the discipline, other days I am a big softie. But I am always growing in my craft, which is a win.
Five tips to help clarify your sentences:
- Keep verbs close to the subject (this way you don’t fill the middle with mind-wandering descriptions, so the reader forgets what’s happening)
- Bad: The gardener, raking scattered leaves from the yard, heaved the piles into a yard waste bin.
- Better: The gardener heaved the raked leaves into a yard waste bin.
- Include only one idea in each sentence (this tip aids in the dastardly comma-splice…but that’s another post topic)
- Bad: Lillian clipped dahlias from her garden to make lovely bouquets for her friends coming over for lunch.
- Better: Lillian clipped dahlias from her garden. They would make lovely bouquets for her friends, coming over for lunch.
- Rethink prepositional phrases (do you need them? Is there another way to write the sentence?)
- Bad: She grabbed the scissors from the drawer to clip the flower stems to the perfect length, then secured each bundle with the blue ribbon from the cupboard.
- Better: She cut the flower stems and secured the bundles with blue ribbon.
- Avoid passive voice (you can choose Microsoft WORD settings to alert you to this habit)
- Bad: The flowers were appreciated by Lillian’s friends.
- Better: Lillian’s friends appreciate her flowers.
- Find specific nouns and action verbs over general ones (find where one specific word choice can replace a weaker phrase)
- Bad: The man working in the yard cleaned up the leaves and put the them into the bins for yard waste.
- Better: The gardener raked the leaves and dumped them into the yard waste bins.
There’s a glow about October, with all those glorious golden sunsets, and this year, two full moons! When leaves fall from their branches, bursts of orange and red flicker in the light. As I edit my book, the colors call to me from outside my window. They remind me that the words of my story are like nature’s leaves…and it’s time for me to rake up the fallen ones. It’s time to give them back to the earth where they can decompose and hopefully fertilize new growth in the future.
Fresh writing for a later day…
Happy writing (because at least you’re writing),
Celaine Charles, October 4, 2020
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