I wrote a 12,000-word story over the summer and I’m coming back to edit now. I tend to do one edit immediately after finishing, then leave it for a few weeks before doing a fresh-eyes edit. I had thought I was managing to remove a lot of the fluffy or superfluous phrasing in the immediate edit, but am noticing a lot I’d missed. Thought I’d give some examples.
Word changes to make the language more interesting:
- Elle sat numb… in the chair → Elle lay numb… in the chair
(she is, actually, sitting, but very much reclined and drained, so I think the less standard word works)
- … let out a long sigh → … let out a nasal sigh
(It was this, or just remove ‘long’–such a boring adjective)
- …with full lips pursing round every word → … with full lips pouting every word
(quicker, easier to read, more evocative)
- Imaging you want to kill him. How would you do it? → … How do you do it?
(This one isn’t to make the language more interesting, but to make it more real and immediate… suggestive of what comes later)
Striking out verbs/phrases that do nothing:
- “Anyway,” Elle continued with a grin, “you would… → “Anyway,” Elle grinned, “you would…
(The list of words to (almost) always delete: really, very, still, just, only… I’m adding ‘continue’ to this.)
- Such thoughts made Charly wonder… → Charly wondered…
(I’ve read somewhere that you should try to remove every ‘make’ from your writing. From my English teaching days, I know just how many different meanings ‘make’ can have (a few here). I tend to agree.)
- Charly knew not why, but Jeremy had become distant →Jeremy had become distant
(It’s Charly doing the thinking here, but the focus is on Jeremy.)
- the big thick-rimmed plastic shades that swallowed a full third of her face → (‘big’ is both pointless and boring, considering that relative clause)
- it did give her satisfaction to… → it did satisfy her to …
(‘give’ is maybe a bit like ‘make’. I’ll have to keep an eye on this.)
That little bunch certainly isn’t the whole lot from the story, but all I can be bothered with now.
If this is interesting to you, you might care to try out the Hemingway editor site. It’s a free website that you paste a lump of writing into and it suggests improvements for conciseness and clarity.