This will be short and sweet. I have a longer Harry Potter post coming soon!
Writing tip of the day: do you find yourself using the phrase “began to” in your action scenes? Consider these:
1. The noise got louder, and my heart began to thud harder.
2. When I saw they were chasing me, I began to run.
I see this kind of phrasing often as I edit. I think it’s partly a novice thing and partly a rough-draft thing. Whatever its origin, don’t do it. It’s clumsy and actually slows the action down. Consider the revisions:
1. The noise got louder, and my heart thudded in my chest.
2. When I saw they were chasing me, I ran.
Sure, there are times when it makes sense to use “began to,” but they aren’t as frequent as you’d think.
If you have any questions about writing or editing, leave them in the comments or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to share this post!
One giveaway that I’m working on a manuscript by a fairly new writer (or with a writer who hasn’t worked with an editor before) is an abundant variety of dialogue tags.
Elmore Leonard advises writers to use only “said.” (Don’t know who Elmore Leonard is? Raylan Givens is shaking a finger at you and insisting you educate yourself. He’ll wait while you do so.)
I try to limit the variety of dialogue tags I use in my own writing and to limit them when I’m editing others’ writing, but I admit Mr. Leonard would argue I stray too often as I will sometimes use “answered,” “added,” and “replied,” among a few others.
With that said, consider this mess:
As writers, we like words, don’t we? We like the way they sound. We like stringing them together in long, elaborate sentences. We work hard to make our words say what we mean.
Sometimes, we work too hard. Sometimes, we just need to say what we mean and get out of our own way–and out of the way of the words themselves.
Today’s lesson has to do with cutting the fat and streamlining your writing in a way that enables the reader’s eyes to keep moving. You don’t want your readers to get bogged down in mucky, wordy sentences. Let’s give them some solid ground.
Consider the following fat sentences and the revisions I recommend:
ORIGINAL: I came up with the idea the second I noticed Megan hesitating. REVISION: I came up with the idea when Megan hesitated. OR The second that Megan hesitated, I came up with the idea. [Editor’s note: if you leave “that” out of the second option, it reads a little bit like there are two Megans.]
ORIGINAL: When I walked in the room, I noticed Sam looking at me. REVISION: When I walked in the room, Sam looked at me.
ORIGINAL: At the very top of the mountain, I noticed a blinking white light. REVISION: At the very top of the mountain is a blinking white light. OR I saw a blinking white light at the top of the mountain.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an editor who writes, which I think helps me identify with my clients and their writing process and concerns. I’ve been on that side of the fence (working on my fifth novel now), and I know what kind of work it takes to complete a whole book.
I also know what it feels like to get writer’s block, to have no clue what should come next, to feel painted into a corner I can’t escape.
Some writers say there’s no such thing as writer’s block. They don’t acknowledge it. They don’t suffer from it. Yay for them, if that’s true. However, I recently suffered from it, so I thought I’d offer you four methods to combat writer’s block whenever you experience it (if you ever do).
- Keep writing. Stay with the same character, continue the scene. Just stay there and keep writing. You will write yourself out of it. Maybe what you write won’t work. Maybe you’ll have to rewrite the whole scene. But just keep writing because if you do, you’ll find your way.
- Switch POVs and/or scenes. If you’ve gotten into a corner with a character and you don’t know where they should go from where you left them, or you don’t like where you left them but you don’t know how to fix that, switch scenes. Leave that trouble spot alone for a bit and write a new chapter focusing on a different scene—a different character if possible. By the time you finish that new scene, you’ll likely know what to do to fix the one that was giving you fits.
- Outline. I’ve been outlining more and more lately, and it’s been helpful. I know some people don’t like it, but when you’re stuck, that black-and-white, methodical, organizational process can help you break out of that jail cell you feel trapped inside. Look at it objectively and just map out what comes next.
- Play the “what-if” game. This can be fun. Brainstorm a bunch of different options for your character. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to fit the story.
For example, Continue reading
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an editor and a writer. I self-published one of my novels in 2014 (see the “My Book” tab), and I have another that’s in the revision stages and one that I’m currently writing. I think working on both sides of the editorial fence—writing and editing—enables me to really relate to a writer’s struggles and help them bring their work up to the level they envisioned when they began writing it. I also think it helps me offer tips, which is what I want to do with this post. (Stay with me–the following story sets up the writing tip.)