I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because even the best pair of eyes can miss something. And mine are not that great!
The other day I was cleaning out my files in preparation for the dreaded tax filing and I found a pile of writing magazines I hadn't remembered I had. One article jumped out at me immediately so I sat myself down and had a good look through it.
It spoke about 25 ways you can sharpen your writing (The Writer, November 2010), and it was written by Ronald Kovach, who is an editor with The Writer Magazine.
I have to say it was an incredibly insightful article and I intend to keep it close when I'm editing and revising all of my manuscripts. He was talking about writing articles for publication, but I think these rules work equally as well for fiction writing. Here's the short version:
First and foremost Kovach says it's important to "send good signals" to your readers. He says you must present a piece of work that is interesting and well organised, but the most important thing is to think of the readers first. It sounds simple doesn't it? But apparently many writers write with agents, editors and publishers in mind, and forget about the reader. Perish the thought! So if you follow his guide, you'll more likely end up with a better story to hold your audience.
1. Be inviting. By this he says you need to invite your readers in by presenting an engaging beginning.
2. Don't give too many details in the opening paragraph.
3. Don't overdo the back story. Weave it in gradually.
4. Try to craft an opening sentence that "engages the reader's sense of drama".
5. Don't go off on tangents...make the opening smooth.
6. Be clear. Make your sentences simple and graceful.
7. Are you assuming too much of your readers? Make sure you set up events and people so that readers can put them into context.
8. Provide specific examples to bring out points. (In fiction, this could be the use of metaphor or simile)
9. Avoid run-on sentences.
10. Explain by showing - description, the five senses, the emotions. Not telling by giving every minute detail.
11. Add energy to your sentences. Use strong verbs. Do a final check of your MS looking at your verbs before you press send.
12. Avoid the use of passives. Yes, we all know this one!
13. Think about the order that you place your words. Kovach's says "Beginning a paragraph with the substance of what someone says, or the start of a quotation, can add energy and impact to a sentence."
14. End your sentences and/or your paragraphs with a pop!
15. Short sentences can help rhythm as long as you don't overuse them
16. Look out for repetition or too much elaboration. Frankly - it's boring.
17. The word "and" signifies multiple examples. Can you lose a few?
18. Is the phrase in "parentheses" needed?
19. Beware the temptation of info dump.
20. Have you put too much information in? Written too much? Does the MS finish in the right place?
21. Avoid wordy phrases and clutter - and redundant words. Lost the fat.
22. Watch for phrases that don't add meaning to the sentences.
23. Use positive language.
24. Proof read. Proof read. Proof read. Check all your spelling and facts. Slow down and READ EVERY WORD.
25. If you've cut all the words you think you can, but need to cut more, try cutting the conclusion/ending. It can often work without seeming too abrupt.
I just have.
Now you might have noticed my opening line. Because I have put it there, the lovely people from Grammarly have given me a gift card ($15 Amazon) and I'm going to pay it forward.
Leave your best tip for sharpening your writing or revising your manuscript and I'll choose one to award the prize to you!