Polishing Your Manuscript, Post Two: Tighten and Tone
(To start with Post One of Polishing Your Manuscript, click here!)
No, I’m not into the wine again and have gotten confused about my writing topic lol; I’m not referring to exercise. With “tighten and tone” I’m referring to sharpening your prose.
So you’ve read and re-read your novel, gotten feedback from others and made the changes you deem necessary, and now you’re ready to make sure all that hard work is fit for public consumption. Well, almost fit for public consumption. After tightening and toning I still send it off to my editor, Lana. But whether or not you’re planning on using an editor, this stage of polishing your manuscript is crucial because… well, because you want to have a readable product that isn’t wordy, redundant or brimming with those nasty little weak words.
Let’s start with wordiness. I can be guilty of this. We all can. Sometimes we try and explain things in three sentences when it should only take us one. Or we’ll tack on a redundant sentence when it isn’t necessary. As a general rule I try and hack paragraphs down when I can. For instance, the passage below is one from my Spectacle, my newest novel, before I got rid of the extra sentence:
Feeling antsy and suffocated, I pace beside the window. I haven’t been indoors this long in years. I already long to breathe fresh air. Put my fingers in the soil. Touch something green and living. Everything here is manmade and cold, and the air is stagnant. I need to get out”
“I need to get out” is redundant because it’s stating the obvious and isn’t needed. Granted, this didn’t shorten the paragraph to a notable degree, but axing sentences (or parts thereof) here and there can make an overall difference with your prose.
Next, let’s talk about a different type of redundancy. When I say my characters mutter or mumble sigh, shake their heads or sneer or snap, I try and keep it as spaced out and minimal as I can. There’s nothing more irritating to me than reading a novel where the character is always mumbling, or one of the only ways the author expresses the character’s disagreement is with a head shake. Now, I get that certain characters might scowl more than others because of their personality type, but if it’s ten times a chapter, lets figure out other ways to show their disgust to keep from making me want to throw the book across the room. OR, just say that a character constantly wears a scowl plastered on their face when we first meet them and it won’t be necessary to repeat it all the time.
Also, I find it useful to perform a search of the words below and make sure I’m not repeating the same descriptions over and over in my manuscript. For instance, search the word “heart” and make sure you didn’t say their heart “dropped” or “raced” or “leapt from their chest” too many times. And when you do search the word and realize you have twenty-five instances where you said the character’s heart raced, replace some of them with their hearts galloping or hammering etc. so you can mix it up a little, or even find other ways to show that they’re freaking out or getting nervous.
Here’s my personal list:
Speaking of word searches, that brings me to my last tightening and toning topic: weak words! Some of these you’ll want to make sure you delete from your manuscript completely, others you’ll want to make sure you use sparingly but aren’t necessarily a cardinal sin. But let’s start with the cardinal sins of weak words, shall we?
Very. Never ever use this word. Ever. Nobody is “very tired” or “very excited.” They’re “exhausted” or “thrilled.” The only reason “very” should be in your manuscript at all is if it’s in the dialogue of a three-year-old. “That horsey is very pretty, mommy.” Even then I kind of hate it. lol
Stuff. How incredibly blah and lazy it is to use the word stuff. Be specific. “She squirreled away her notebook, pens and binoculars into her duffle bag.” Not just her stuff.
Things. This is pretty much the same as using stuff. Don’t be lazy!
Got. She got sick. He got the cereal from the cabinet. They got bored. No! She’s “feverish and achy.” He “snatched” the cereal from the cabinet or “swiped” it when no one was looking. They were “crippled with boredom.” Anything but “got.”
On to the words to use sparingly.
Began and started. You hear this advice all the time with these two words: nobody started running, or it didn’t start raining. They’re either running or they’re not. It’s either raining or it’s not. Same thing for began. Instead, say the rain fell in heavy sheets across the yard. Or he launched into a sprint. Way better, right? I still see “start” and “began” used from time to time, though, and I’m guilty of using in it my own writing. Just try not to use it excessively.
Big, small, long and short. Again, I still use these every now and then. “He winked a big blue eye at me.” “Her long lashes grazed his cheek as they hugged.” But I’ve seriously read a novel where when the author was describing a house room by room, and she kept saying “long” black table, “big” silver mirror, “small” ornate vase, “long” sheer drapes. Again with the laziness!!! Find better descriptions. “Antique table that spread the length of the room.” “Silver, floor-length mirror.” “Vase with delicate, hand-painted flowers.” “Sheer curtains framed the window and pooled in soft pink puddles against the tiled floor.”
Here are other words to use sparingly (and I have a tendency to overuse):
That’s all for today!!! Love to all.
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