In your first draft, write quickly, letting the fat hang out. But to look good, your manuscript needs some tightening up during the editing process.
- Consider the SCOOP.
Some information in your story may be nice, even newsworthy, but not necessary. To determine what to keep and what to cut, identify everything that isn’t essential. How do you do that? Define the Situation, reveal the Character, show the Objective, and magnify the Obstacle and Plight. Does each action, exchange of dialogue, and description, move the story forward so readers are desperate to know what will happen? If not, cut those areas and add details that build tension and conflict.
- Lose Redundancies, Weak Modifiers, and Unnecessary Words.
If two words or phrases have similar meaning, keep the strongest and drop the other. Unlike preaching, reiteration is seldom good. Try leaving out the –ly adverbs such as finally, quickly, actually, and suddenly (and a host of others), because they detract instead of adding force to what they modify. Use concrete nouns and specific descriptions to reduce the need for adjectives. Eliminate most qualifying words like long, small, very, seem, all and just.
- Herb tied a long rope around the bumper. (Is a long rope six, sixty, or six hundred feet long?)
- Billy raked all the leaves into a pile.
- John nodded his head in approval, but Susie shook her head no, disagreeing. (Can John nod anything other than his head? A nod says yes, and shaking the head says no.)
- The tent was fairly large and comfortably fit eight people.
- Paula actually answered in the exact same tone.
For more Redundancy examples, Click Here.
- Skip Obvious, In-Between Actions.
Unless the method for getting from one place to another is crucial to the story, those steps should be left out.
- Wayne leaned over and kissed his mom on the cheek.
- Charlotte walked over to the table in the far corner, pulled back the empty chair, and sat across from her sister. Charlotte sat at the table in the far corner, across from her sister.
- The new employee reached out and shook the manager’s hand.
- Trim Prepositional Phrases.
Phrases beginning with of might transform to a possessive. A single adjective can sometimes eliminate the need for a modifying phrase.
- The company president of the company gave an inspiring employee speech to the employees in attendance.
- On the top of the mountain top, God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets of stone.
- In a hurry to get to the student union building on campus, Rupert jogged with flying feet under the oak with spreading limbs loaded with acorns and across the freshly cut grass to where his girlfriend was sitting with her laptop open. (Okay, too much is too much. Cut to what is most important and you’ll look much better.) Rupert sprinted under the spreading oak to see his girlfriend, sitting with her laptop.
- Combine Short, Choppy Sentences.
While hundred-word literary sentences should be a thing of the past, many short sentences can be as irritating as a long drive down a brick-paved road. Two or three short sentences, combined into a central clause with modifying phrases, can make for a shorter, more enjoyable ride.
Jack slaved a whole hour. Finally, the new water pump was installed. The bolts were securely tightened. So were all the hose clamps. He then filled up the radiator with antifreeze. He let the engine run for ten minutes. There were not any leaks. (Seven sentences totaling forty-four words).
An hour later, the new water pump was in place, bolts and hose clamps tight, radiator filled with antifreeze. Jack let the engine run for ten minutes. No leaks. (Three sentences totaling twenty-nine words.)