POLISHING YOUR MANUSCRIPT
by Sandra L. Cook, ©2001, All Rights Reserved
Tightening up your manuscript is always necessary. It is difficult in the beginning, but becomes easier with practice. As you consciously go through your manuscripts, you will develop an eye for whackable words. Soon you will be eliminating them from your writing before you put them on paper.
Whackable words are “telling” words, “-ly” adverbs and lame adjectives. “Telling” words are often forms of the “to be” verbs. In the statement, “She was surprised”, the word “was” tells the state she is in. What could you say besides “was surprised”?
She slapped her hand on her chest and gasped. By this action, we know she is surprised without being told. Using action is what editors mean when they say “Show, don’t tell.” To eliminate these telling words, search your manuscript and circle words such as:
was, were, is, has, had
Adverbs ending in -ly are whackable words. You may say, “He walked slowly towards me.” By combining the verb and adverb into one more descriptive verb, you can cut your word count and be precise with your language. If a person is walking slowly, then they may be described as sauntering, meandering, or strolling. You could then say, “He strolled towards me.” Maybe he sauntered towards you or meandered towards you. By controlling your adverb/verb combinations, you can set the tone or communicate emotion better.
Lame descriptors that don’t tell you very much about the very thing you are trying to describe very precisely can be eliminated very easily. Very often, a writer will be very non-committal and will use a word such as “very” to emphasize something they think is very important in their story. I hope using very very frequently will help make it evident how weak the word very is as a descriptor.
Instead of saying “very important”, you could say “critical”. Instead of saying “very often”, you could say “frequently”. “The very thing” can have “very” eliminated altogether since it doesn’t enhance the meaning at all. “The very thing” IS the same as “the thing”.
Eliminating a weak descriptor will strengthen the statement without adding additional words. Instead of saying “very lame”, just saying “lame” is equally as effective.
Other lame words include “just” (she just wanted), or “that” (I told you that he left), “due to the fact” condenses to “because”. Taking out “just” or “that” does not change the meaning of the statement, so zap them! There will be occasions where keeping the words will make the sentences flow. By being aware of need versus unnecessary usage, you can make your manuscript better.
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