Last week I wrote about some large-scale editing tips that actually help. This week, I'm focusing more on some smaller, individual tips that can apply to your page-by-page revisions. Again, I've picked up these tips from a myriad of sources, and I don't expect you to use all of them, but they've improved my voice and they're effective. NOTE: some of these tips are specific to fiction/sci-fi/fantasy authors, but other writes can apply them however needed.
So here we go:
1. Destroy the adverbs.
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Adverbs make for weak writing because verbs power a piece, whereas adverbs just tack on extra clutter. Here's the simplest way I've seen it explained:
Instead of "he said angrily," use "he boomed" or "he thundered." It creates a much starker mental picture of how this dude is feeling. Plus, it helps get rid of all those 'said's.
Instead of "she ran quickly," use "she sprinted" or "she scrambled."
Instead of "she sobbed heavily" just say "she sobbed." Or, if this character really has that much of an issue with crying, use something like "she stifled her screams into a pillow, but remained there for so many hours that her friends had to keep peeking in to see if she was still alive."
Verbs power writing.
2. World-build all the time.
World building is my personal weak point, but it's necessary. One of the best pieces of world-building advice I've heard is to do it constantly. Write down lists of where basic resources come from, or how a regular citizen of your main city would survive on a daily basis. Think about grocery stores, gas stations, school districts (and if regular education and magic education would be separate or together), main imports/exports and at least a basic political system and history. Even if your readers won't see all of it, just knowing the wheels and cogs in the back of your mind will help you integrate a more believable lifestyle into your character's existence. Personally, I love to write flash fiction pieces that take place in that universe with simple plots that help me form my own image. I haven't perfected world building, but I'm certainly better.
3. Cut out "watched."
This was my personal bane until quite recently. My scene would go:
He watched her stand up and walk to the window.
"I don't love this anymore," she said. She turned and watched him shrink back. "I don't love any of it."
Instead of having your characters watching all the other characters do stuff, just have the characters do the stuff. Here's the edited version:
She walked to the window, fists clenched.
"I don't love this anymore," she said. She spun on him. "Any of it."
He shrank back. "What?"
Or something like that. I've tried to incorporate those stronger verbs, and instead of removing the action from the character by filtering it through a second character's eyes, I've just let the first character do what they do. The reader should be able to pick up any character bias on their own based on context clues and characterization. Making this change has been a bit of a struggle, but one which I now deeply appreciate.
4. Em dashes!
The em dash is my favorite thing ever—as you can see, it acts like a semicolon, which separates two independent clauses without having to actually divide the sentence in two. It can also take the place of colons or parentheses (or—in some cases—commas). It's just a long dash the width of a capital 'M', and is a glorious visual break in a large piece of text. I will admit, I went through a phase where I used em dashes like sprinkles on a sundae, but I've since cut back. It's a great way to craft those longer, self-indulgent/eloquent sentences and also maintain excellent flow. I always recommend the em dash.
5. Make dialogue unrealistic.
This one's from my writing professor. She brought up the glorious point that real-life dialogue is terrible. Small talk is death. If your characters have to go through the song-and-dance of pleasantries every time somebody's introduced, you may as well sacrifice your draft to the gods of Boring Stuff.
When you proofread your conversations, take out all the 'um's, 'uh's, 'well's, ellipses, unnecessary pauses and 'how do you do's that you possibly can. Even if your character is a hermit who hasn't had social interaction in twenty-three years, you don't want to have them start every single sentence with 'um.' It may be realistic, but it's boring as heck and eats up space.
Make dialogue unrealistic. Streamline it. Give each character a goal they want to achieve from this conversation and then have them try and get there. The more they battle, the better, but if half of it's weighted down with 'well...' then it's going to take twice as long to say one thing.
6. It's okay to describe things, just not everything.
Personally, I've heard a lot of bad rap about description. "Nobody wants a Dickens!" people say. The truth is, you have to describe stuff as a writer, and it's perfectly fine to give a detailed description of something in order to characterize it.
On your first draft, be as wordy as you want. You can always go through and condense it later. But if a big, creaky, spookified, abandoned mansion is central to your story, you'll want to give it some attention. Talk about the cobwebs that have dust clinging to each individual strand. Talk about the splintered windowsills that house nests of silverfish. Talk about the moss growing inside the oven. These things tell the reader just how long this place has been uninhabited, and it will cultivate an atmosphere.
Don't shy away from beautiful words just because you're afraid of over-explaining. If you're worried that there's too much, have someone read it and let you know if you need to mix some dialogue throughout a passage, or if they're not sure exactly why the sofa needed so many sentences. Describe well, and describe with purpose.
Hopefully these tips weren't old news to you, but even if they were, pass them on. I would have loved to have this knowledge as a new writer, and as a slightly-more-experienced writer, I'm always craving new ways to develop my voice. Share these tips and employ them yourself if you so desire. Development in a writer is just as important as development in a character, after all.