When writing, there are a few simple mistakes that any novice will make without realizing what they are doing. These mistakes mark a piece of work as unpolished, or written by a beginner.
Luckily, they are also easy to spot and easy to remedy.
Before we start, remember that, while editing can be painful, in the end it’s like refining gold. Your first draft is a lump of rock but the gold is in there somewhere, and steadily as you edit and refine, the gold begins to show until it’s that polished valuable work that you envisioned from the start.
Get that red pen ready, and lets go.
1. Get rid of passive voice.
You’ve heard before, “show, don’t tell”. However, most writers don’t actually know what this means. The common thought is that “showing” is long passages of flowing description, and that “telling” is summarizing anything.
Well, if that was the case, then showing all the time would create a long winded novel with not much action or substance.
No, showing is something completely different.
Showing is using an active voice.
An active voice draws your reader into what you are saying, immerses them into the novel, and allows them to ‘experience’ the action as it is happening.
Passive voice forces them out of the writing, and tells them to take a step back, as if they are being told a story, instead of living it.
Knowing this, it makes sense that you’d want to show instead of tell as much as possible, right?
Good news, this an easy fix.
All you have to look for are the be verbs, and the -ing words to start. ex. “Was running”, “was drawing”, “weren’t helping”, “had been drying”, etc etc etc.
Turning this into an active voice gives you not only the opportunity to use a stronger and vibrant verb, but also tightens your writing and draws the reader in.
“Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully.”
— William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well
Fix the above examples to get: “She ran”, “he drew”, “Didn’t help”, “Dried”.
Just start axing out as many of those ‘was’s and ‘were’s as possible.
This gets us to the next point.
2. Get rid of -ly words.
In a small dose, they can add flavour, but too much of anything is a killer, and for some reason beginner novelists always fall into the trap of using adverbs as a crutch.
Swiftly, haughtily, heavily, softly, happily, quickly, carefully, suddenly, etc.
They seem nice, don’t they? Almost harmless.
Don’t believe it.
These words not only dull an otherwise vibrant voice, but they also yank the reader out of your world by distracting them and jumping in their faces.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”
Everyone has words that they use more often. I struggle with ‘softly’. “He smiled softly,” it’s so easy to do. Don’t. Don’t give in.
When you don’t rely on adverbs, you are forced to choose a better verb.
Smirked, quickened, heaved, snorted, ensconced, galloped, chattered.
The good news about this one, is that you can easily do a search for ‘ly’ and just start deleting these words altogether. Especially ‘suddenly’. Just don’t use it, ever. Trust me. It completely robs the suddenness of the sentence.
Now, be careful, however, not to start using these fancy verbs in dialogue.
This gets me to our last point.
3. Said or Nothing
Another common trap to fall into is to start deleting all the ‘said’s in a manuscript and replacing them with ‘whispered’, ‘yelled’, etc.
While it is true that we want to vibrant verbs in our writing, dialogue tags are the one exception.
When reading, dialogue tags are only to make clear who said what, and otherwise, they are just distracting and slow down otherwise colourful scenes.
Not to mention that when you follow an exclamation point with “he yelled,” you’re being redundant.
Get rid of your adverbs in dialogue tags, and use just said, or better, nothing at all. Your characters’ voices should be unique enough that readers can tell who is talking, even without a tag.
A well rounded character can speak for themselves.
The best way to approach tagging dialogue is to remember point one and two: use active voice, and get rid of adverbs.
Try to mingle action with your dialogue.
‘She slammed her hands down on the desk’, transports you into the scene, while ‘she yelled’, your eyes just skip over.
And there you have it. Three easy tips for improving your writing that you can start today.
What are you waiting for?
And what did you think of these tips? Let me know!