CLEANING UP YOUR PROSE
As not only an editor but a self-editor (since I’m also a writer), I see everything under the sun when it comes to extra verbiage. We all do it. Whether it’s extraneous words in our narrative or dialogue to plain old excess narrative, we need to write lean, mean and get to the point. The more garbage you add on, even if some literary circles love words, most readers will lose interest (or at least struggle to stay interested). Also, those extra words add clutter that weakens the impact of everything you’re trying to say.
Self-editing has its hazards. There’s always the forest-through-the-trees mentality. That’s unavoidable because you’re too close to the story and your mind tends to fill in what you intended to say rather than what you put on the page. The way to fix a lot of that is to set the writing aside, move on to something else and come back to it later. The biggest fix is experience. The more you write and learn the craft, the cleaner you’ll write, as long as you heed advice, have the aptitude to pick up the tricks, and practice them. Also, when you go back for the second or third or more edits, you’ll more easily spot the issues and fix them.
WHAT IS EXTRA VERBIAGE?
Wow, where to begin?
How about double/repeated words? I don’t mean stuttering like bbbbut or he he he did this. I’m talking about using the same key word two or more times in the same sentence or within the same paragraph. In this case, I’m not talking about articles such as the and and, but for instance, unique words like a common action tag…nodded.
Nodded, used as a tag, is one of my weaknesses. Detach nodded…whatever…
In the next paragraph, or maybe the one after that, Elroy nodded…whatever…
When you see multiple action tags using the same word on the same page, or even too often within the same chapter, the repetition becomes noticeable.
Using window five times in a paragraph.
Repeating a character’s name five times within a paragraph. It should only be there once. Then, when you fix it, if the name is at the start of each sentence, you replace it with He or She. Guess what? Now you have the character’s name once, but either he or she four times starting each sentence! Same problem, you just replaced one repeated word with another. Time to re-write three of those sentences to eliminate the need for the pronoun at the beginning of each sentence. Also, keep in mind using too many of them hidden within each sentence. See how you can eliminate some of them within each sentence by re-writing the sentences to avoid having to use the pronoun constantly. A lot of this comes to style and feel.
Speaking of which…with some authors, there isn’t a pronoun they don’t love.
This is especially true in first-person but can also have a huge effect in third.
In first-person, it’s I, me, my in every sentence. You have to get creative to eliminate them or it gets repetitious.
In third person, it’s he, she, him, her in excess. Same difference.
In true omniscient, it’s they & them.
It’s said that some authors never found an adverb they didn’t like. I’ve read a few of these people.
Very, absolutely, considerably…the list goes on. These are all extra words that have little to no impact on the sentence.
Example: Joe stood back and stared at the very huge man.
Joe stood back and stared at the huge man.
While I have other issues with that sentence, the main one is the completely (also an adverb) unnecessary very in the sentence.
You can tell a lot of adverbs because they end in ly.
Another one is just.
Cyndi got there just in time.
In this case, you can almost justify using it.
I’d make it less passive.
Cyndi rushed through the door two seconds before the train pulled away.
COMMON CONVERSATIONAL & OTHER PHRASES
There are certain common phrases we use in dialogue and elsewhere that don’t belong in narrative.
Though it would seem Randy was hungry, he could not eat.
No ceegar, folks.
Despite his stomach pangs, Randy could not eat.
The best way to learn these things is to practice practice practice. Also, if you haven’t had classes, belong to a writer’s group or have a mentor to help you, check out books in the library or on-line on grammar, adverbs & style. These books can do wonders. I have to admit I’ve never cracked one of those books because I learned from alternative methods.