While in the process of editing my novel, I’ve come across areas where I need improvement, and one of those areas is my word choice. Even my editor, Pat Lobrutto, stresses to me to keep my writing simple.
I think all of us like to show off now and then, but in writing, it is something you can’t afford to do. So now, I’m searching my manuscript for areas where I need to simplify.
Writing should be invisible. By invisible, I mean that readers, as they read, don’t notice the words but grasp only the idea the words relay.
Invisible writing is simple writing.
As I comb through my work, I’m looking for areas that have too much complex wordage, areas where I can say things in a simpler way that makes it effortless for the reader to comprehend.
As usual, editing your own work is a difficult task. We don’t always see our own mistakes. To try to catch the areas in my work where I have overdone my words, I go through the following steps:
Take out big words and replace them with simple ones – I try to remove unusual or uncommon words in a sentence. If I need or want to use an unusual or uncommon word that happens to suit well, I make sure to limit one of those per sentence.
Write for your audience – I try to write my sentences with the idea in mind that regardless of who is reading it, they will understand what I’m writing. Gearing my writing to approximately a grade nine reading level ensures everyone understands.
Clarify unfamiliar words – In fiction writing, especially in fantasy, where some words are “made up”, the reader needs to know what those words mean – no dictionary will tell them. I try through dialogue or added information, to explain the meaning to the reader. Specialized terminology or abstruse words, I think are often better replaced.
After taking away complex wordage, it is amazing how it makes not only the writing more understandable but also the story better.
I assume that the process of editing varies for every writer, but regardless of how it’s done, it is a very necessary and painstaking process. There may be writers out there who can publish their first draft, who require no extra polishing or very little; I am not one of those. Lacking in that wonderful talent, I am forced to go through many different stages of editing to bring my work to an acceptable level.
The editing stage that I’m currently working on is tightening up my novel, which also relates to my last blog – Frustrating Word Count. This tightening step makes my writing better, the information more concise, and the story clearer, with the wonderful side effect of reducing word count.
I use various methods for tightening my writing:
Removing my excess wordage. What I mean by excess is using one word to say what I sometimes say in three or four words. This type of excess wordage creeps all through my text. For example: The science of flight has advanced over the years. This can be better written, Aeronautics has advanced over the years, making the noun stronger, more noticeable, and the word-count less. I have just cut four unnecessary words.
Remove my weak modifiers, words I use for emphasis. I tend to use modifiers a lot in my writing and they really aren’t necessary. See, I did it again! The modifier really is superfluous in that sentence.
Remove my unneeded nouns. For example, The amount of coffee I drink is too much. I should write instead, The coffee I drink is too much. There go another two more words!
Get rid of my extra verbs, articles, and prepositions that profusely find their way into my writing. For example, I will make changes to my story. Instead, I will change my story. The verb, make is unnecessary. Another example, The subjects that are found in public school are basic. Better would be, The subjects in public school are basic. I have just dropped three more words!
Use concise writing. For this, I use my Dictionary of Concise Writing by Robert Fiske. I use too many wordy phrases in my writing that can be reduced to fewer words. An example he gives in his book: “Mr. Branch was an acquaintance of Miss Gregory.” This is better written: “Mr. Branch knew Miss Gregory.”
It’s amazing how losing excess words makes the writing clearer and better to read.
I’m sure that I have other bad habits to my writing that I’m blinded to when editing, but that’s where my much needed editor helps to teach me.
If you have any helpful tips for me, I would love to hear them.
I am currently working on tightening up one of my manuscripts, a challenging task to say the least but a very necessary one.
*Word count is vital in the publishing industry.
My editor, Pat Lobrutto, always impresses on me how PP&B (Printing, Paper, and Binding) costs affect decisions made at each level of the publishing process from submissions to acquisitions.
My current task is to chop about 20,000 words off my story. Yikes!
As a creator of a story, it is difficult to achieve objectivity in order to make those cuts effectively. After all, everything seems important in one’s own writing.
Here are some tips that I have found helpful:
To distance yourself from the book for a time, a recommendation that came from my editor. Take a week or two and not read or work on the story. You’ll be surprised how differently you view your work after that time. You see mistakes you didn’t see before. You find sections that are too drawn out or redundant. It gives you emotional distance from it, allowing you to be more critical of your work.
Take each sentence and tell yourself that for every word you eliminate from it, you’ll receive a dollar. It’s a shame one doesn’t actually get the money. I had read this tip a while back, but unfortunately, I can’t remember where, sadly not permitting me to give the originator credit for the helpful advice.
Zoom in on your words to at least 200%, allowing you to focus your attention solely on that one sentence, thereby, not being distracted by any other words around it. Enlarging it makes the words clearer, giving you a better perspective of your work. I stumbled across the idea one day when I found myself being distracted with the sentences before and after the one, I was working on.
I have two trusted books–a must for every reference library–called, The Dictionary of Concise Writing that gives you alternatives to wordy phrases, and The Dimwit’s Dictionary that gives you alternatives to overused words and phrases, both by Robert Hartwell Fiske. Redundancy phrases like, ‘for all practical purposes’ can be cut down to the word ‘essentially’, eliminating three words. Addressed are ineffectual phrases, metaphors, infantile phrases, clichés, redundancies, and so on, all which add wordiness to a story and when removed not only decrease word count and tighten up the writing but makes a better written story.
Despite my best attempt with all these good tips at my disposal, I’m sure to need help in the end and that is where my talented editor comes in, thankfully!