Just when you think it’s done with you – it pulls you back in. No, I’m not talking about the Mafia, I’m talking about the manuscript you just finished for your short story or novel.
A brief word on Strunk & White’s Elements of Style: Get it. Use it.
The best advice Strunk & White ever gave? OMIT NEEDLESS WORDS. Here’s the quote:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
If it was easy to follow we’d all have perfect, tight manuscripts but that’s not what we’ve got kids, right?
As a rule of thumb, cut 10-15% of your manuscript (yes, even for flash fiction pieces!) when you edit. Be ruthless. That section where the main character recedes into the background, and it’s not moving the plot forward? It’s got to go. It doesn’t matter how great the phrasing is or how much you love those sentences. They aren’t doing anything for the story.
From the feedback I’ve gotten from editors over the last few years, it’s safe to recommend removing all adverbs from your work or the vast majority of them. Think of words ending in LY, like admiringly, or frustratingly.
As Stephen King says in On Writing (a great, amusing reference book to own…) cut any adverbs used to modify the word SAID.
Never write this: “Does my butt look fat in these jeans,” she said cheekily.
King’s point is adverbs weaken the writing. When a writer is insecure about their writing, they can hide behind adverbs to emphasize a point. It’s a way of directing the reader when the writing isn’t clear enough. Anyway, King says it’s a weak-ass move, and I agree.
Who needs an adverb when you’ve got verbs like smash, tickle, illuminate, and love?
Right behind the clean-up of adverbs is the removal of adjectives. I’ve found this challenging because you’ll no longer have a blue dress. But you could have a frock, or a gown. You won’t have a gigantic bowl of pasta, just the linguine remains. When you stop relying on adjectives, you find a new way of using more descriptive nouns, which strengthens the writing.
There are other bad habits to avoid, and I refer you to my other post This About That for your reading pleasure.
Here’s what we covered today:
- Have a good reference library, especially Strunk & White’s Elements of Style
- Omit needless words
- Get rid of adverbs
- Remove adjectives
Good luck with your edits!
Feel free to pass along your editing advice in the Comments section – you know you want to share those gems so go ahead!