Today, as promised, a few ways to make your manuscript stronger and stand out from the others. Granted this won’t be everything you need, but it’ll help.
My first bit of advice is to write. Don’t stop to edit. That’s what first drafts are for. That way you know where the story is going and you can add in or delete all the little details you need to make it shine while your editing.
So, now you’ve written your story and you’re happy with it. The best thing to do is let it sit for a while. A week at least. Yes, I know you’re thinking I’m crazy, but really the best thing to do is let it sit. You’ll catch more things if it’s not so fresh in your mind. I learned this one the hard way.
My first run-through I don’t do any editing. I make no changes to the actual structure. I’m only looking for inconsistencies or things that need more (better) or less descriptions. Also, I make sure each character is completely well rounded. I play a little scenario in my head and see if I can take each character and make a little story for him/her. Almost as if I’m doing a spin off. That way I know they aren’t flat. There are some excellent worksheets on this that you can find on the web or contact me and I’ll be happy to send it to you.
Then I go through it a second time, this time looking for structural changes.
I do a “Find” for the words: just, that, all words that end in ly, was, and “I heard,” “I felt,” and “I saw,” highlighting each one a different color so it catches my eyes when I go through the MS.
Also, as I’m going through it, I look for words that aren’t necessary. And try to see if I can rearrange a sentence to mean the same thing, but make it more concise. The rule of thumb is “less is always more.” If you can say something in 2 words, why say it in 10? Unless you weaken your writing by doing so.
Here’s a great list by Kat O’Shea of ways to make your writing stronger. It was written for romance books, but it works well for all types of books.
1) Cut unnecessary words. Eliminate adjectives and adverbs (just, very, really, and other words ending in ly). Use strong verbs and nouns instead. Also, verbs do not need to be propped up with start to, tried to, began to, seemed to, continued to, needed to, decided to, could, would, etc. Run a search and delete as many as possible.
2) Weed out intruders. When you use phrases such as she saw, he watched, she remembered, he felt, or she touched, you are putting a filter between your character and the reader. Readers are not experiencing the hero’s actions themselves; the author is telling/describing what’s happening. Any time you’re tempted to write a sense word, drop yourself into the middle of the scene and see the scene through your character’s eyes, touch it with her hands. It’s the difference between:
She touched the mat of curls on his chest.
Her fingers tangled in the mat of curls on his chest.
She felt his muscled chest press against her back as he leaned over.
His muscled chest pressed against her back as he leaned over.
The second ones are much more sensual and immediate. They drop us into the action. Which ones make your pulse race faster? Which ones make you feel like you’re part of the action? Can you see the difference eliminating filters/intruders makes?
3) Look for passive voice—was and were are good indicators. Replace these with active verbs to make your writing sparkle. Also look at each sentence to see who is doing the acting. Is the subject taking charge or is he/she being acted upon?
PASSIVE: The book was read by Moira.
ACTIVE: Moira read the book.
PASSIVE: Alisha was served dinner by John.
ACTIVE: John served Alisha dinner.
4) Show rather than tell. Telling is describing, whereas showing is action that demonstrates what is going on in the character’s life. If you’re not sure what this means, here’s one example:
Telling: Sally was angry with Brad.
Showing: Sally glared at Brad, then turned and stomped off.
The second sentence not only lets us know that she’s angry, it shows how she expressed her anger. It’s much stronger and more interesting. Change any places where you describe a character’s thoughts or deeds instead of showing him or her in action. See the following websites for more info:
http://www.rooftopsessions.com/OpeningHook.htm (Mostly about openings, but check out her two examples of openings to see the difference between showing and telling)
6) Dialogue needs to be crisp and to the point. It must also move the story along and/or develop your characters. Eliminate the usual conversational pleasantries (hello, how are you, good-bye), filler (you know, um, you see, I guess, well), and repetitions. Concentrate on the essential information you need to convey, and make your dialogue sound better than real life. Never use dialogue to tell readers things the characters already know nor use it as an information dump (to let readers know all the interesting facts you learned while researching).
7) The main reason people read romance is to be transported to another time, place, situation. Imagining themselves in the heroine’s place, they live the story through her. In order to create that illusion, details can be extremely important. Sensory details flesh out a fully realized world. What is she smelling? hearing? feeling? tasting? You don’t want to bog the story down with description, but a few well chosen details add spice and make the setting feel real. (But do it without adding “intruders.” See # 2.)
8) Avoid using It was or There were to begin sentences; those are weak constructions. Often just cutting them takes care of the problem. Usually the rest of the sentence can stand on its own. If not, reword it.
9) NNTT (No Need to Tell)—Many writers use body language, dialogue, or an action that shows how a character is feeling or reacting, then they follow it up with an explanation. Stick with the action, and let readers figure out how a character is feeling. If you’ve portrayed the emotion through action or dialogue, trust that your readers will understand.
When Lynn turned the key, the ignition clicked a few times, but the engine refused to turn over. She pounded on the steering wheel and swore
, furious that her car wouldn’t start
, furious that her car wouldn’t start
As readers, we realize she’s furious—we see her temper fit. We also know her car didn’t start, so telling us that is unnecessary.
10) Watch for ing verbs. They’re usually weaker than verbs that end in ed. And because ing indicates the action is ongoing, they often make for impossible actions.
Racing up the stairs, she grabbed his shoulder and glared into his eyes.
Wow, she can hang onto his shoulders and maintain eye contact as she’s racing up the stairs? Pretty impressive. If that’s not what you meant, then change the sentence to She raced up the stairs, grabbed his shoulder, and glared into his eyes.
11) Avoid backstory in your first three chapters. Use those chapters to introduce your heroine, your hero, and the main story conflict. Show them interacting, acting & reacting to each other. Backstory, imagination, and being in a character’s thoughts slow the story down too much. Actions that happen in the past also put too much distance between the character and the event and lower the tension. (One clue to backstory is had in front of your verbs. One or two may be necessary to order events, but avoid had for whole passages.) Begin with the inciting incident—an event that sets off sparks between your hero & heroine (or between your character and an antagonist). Weave a tiny bit of backstory into later chapters, but only if absolutely necessary. Keep the story in past (or present) tense to give it a sense of immediacy. Using only past or present tense keeps the reader guessing about what’s about to happen.
12) End each chapter with a cliffhanger. If tension drops off at the end of the chapter or a problem is resolved and all is well for your character, readers have no reason to continue reading. They can easily close the book at that point and have no incentive to finish the story. To keep readers involved, end chapters during the high point of the action, right before the resolution. Then readers have to read on to see how the scene ends. Or if you resolve a problem before the end of the chapter, make sure the resolution results in a new problem and hints at it or introduces it at the close of the chapter. This is a key to writing a page turner that your readers won’t be able to put down.
Some must have books are Struck and White’s Elements of Style and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Strunk and White’s Elements should be used a reference, while Self-Editing should be read through from cover to cover and then used as a reference. It does, essentially repeat the 12 steps above, but it goes much more in-depth and uses real life examples.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful.
Tomorrow I’m taking a page from a friend’s book and making it “TEASER TUESDAY.” Where I’ll post an excerpt from one of my stories.