Saturday, November 22, 2014

5 Quick Tips for Cleaning Up Your Writing

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

     Hullo there, Catsi again. I've got another writing post for you all to suffer through enjoy. Today's subject is on the little things you do after writing to make your prose sparkle.

     This is kind of an after step. Like when you're building a house, you don't paint first. First you have to make sure the building is sturdy, the structure sound, and actually get the house built. Painting is really the last step. You don't make it pretty until you make sure it stands.

     However, it's still an important step. Ever read a book where you couldn't understand anything that was happening, because the writing itself wasn't clear? That's what I'm focusing on for this post--"painting" your writing to make it look nice.

  1. Sentence length and structure.
         When you have a bunch of long sentences in a row, it starts to feel redundant and monotonous. Short sentences, too. By varying the sentence lengths, you'll be making your writing flow smoother and easier to read.

    I ran to the car. Mel glanced at me. "What's up?"
    "Nothing really." I caught my breath. "Where did Anna go?"
         Yay for a bit of example writing I wrote on the spot.

         You'll noticed that all of the sentences are pretty much the same length, not too short, but definitely on the shorter end of the sentence-length spectrum.

    I ran to the car, breathing hard. Mel glanced at me. "What's up?"
    "Nothing really." I grimaced inwardly at the easy way I told the lie. "Where did Anna go?"

         In addition to the conflict I added in this example, we also have some varying sentence length and structure. It makes the reading easier, and makes you want to keep reading.

         This rule goes for sentence structure, too. In my writing, I tend to over use the type of sentence as the first one in the second example -  "I did something, doing something else." Look for the types of sentences you use frequently, and cut as many of them as possible.
  2. Look for adverbs.
         Lots of people are extremely (adverb) against these particular words, but I don't think they're always evil. (Elisabeth wrote a great post on them a while ago, which you can check out here.)

         My general rule is, if there is a verb that describes your adverb-verb pair on it's own, use it. And if you take away the adverb and it doesn't change the meaning of the verb, leave it out. I love strong verbs, and I think using them may be one of my writing strengths. I still use adverbs every now and then, though.

    She walked silently over to him, nervously thinking of everything that could possibly go wrong. He looked at her angrily, like he already knew what was coming.

          Yep, I love my strong verbs. That was a tricky example to write.

    She crept over to him, fingers trembling and mind racing. He turned his glare on her. His eyes flashed, like he knew what was coming.

         See how much more descriptive this example is? It (hopefully) creates a mental picture of our heroine's fear and timidity, and the other character's anger. While we knew those things were there in the first example, we could feel them in the second one.
  3. Look for places you could show rather than tell.
         This is another thing that I love, but I often have trouble making it work in my writing. Instead of telling your reader what the hero is feeling, thinking, or doing, show them feeling, thinking, or doing it. Don't tell what the location looks like--Show it to us.

    The air in the room was hot, and it made Sadie even more irritable.

         There's nothing particularly wrong with this (besides that it's a bit passive), and we know that the room is hot and Sadie's not too happy. However, with a bit of showing, we can make the reader feel the warm air and how grumpy Sadie really is.

       The air in the room felt sticky and humid, and the back of Sadie's shirt stuck to her skin. Her arms prickled from the heat. A drop of sweat dripped down Connor's forehead as he shot her a glare.
       Another bubble of irritation welled inside of her. If he made one more sarcastic comment about this being her fault...

           Do you blame Sadie for being grumpy?

  4. Check for the word "was."
         This isn't always something horrible, and you can't always avoid it, but keep on the lookout. Using the word "was" often fails to create a picture in our head, because it doesn't describe an action, merely a moment in time.
    She was leaning against the wall. Her arms were folded. I was suddenly feeling nervous, and wondering why she was here.
    She leaned back against the wall, arms folded. A flood of nervous questions filled my mind. Why is she here?
  5. Beware passive voice.
         Passive voice is when the subject of your sentence is the recipient of the action, rather than the one performing the action. In the following example, the subject of the sentence is "the gear," and the action is ("was set") is happening to it.
    The gear was set into place by Hawke's quick fingers.
         Active voice has the performer of the action as the sentence subject. Since Hawke is performing the action, we rearrange the sentence so he becomes the subject.
    Hawke set the gear into place, his quick fingers finishing the job in less than a second.
         Now, technically, the subject should be "Hawke's quick fingers," but I've found that it always sounds weird to have a body part as the subject of a sentence. It makes it sound as though Hawke's fingers are unattached to the rest of him, and he has no control over what they're doing. So I took that out, and added the last part of the sentence so we still have the description of Hawke's fingers.
     Now, all of these "rules" are things I think makes writing stronger. Maybe you love passive voice, or adverbs, or whatever else I said not to use in this post. If that's the case, forget what I said. Write what you like to read.

     What are some things you look out for when you're cleaning up your writing?

Catsi Eceer is an aspiring author of fantasy and dystopian novels. To learn more about her, visit our "About Us" page.

We have currently have a holiday poetry contest open, which you can find here.

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