1. Check for wordiness, especially at the beginning. A lot of writers tend to do what I call throat-clearing before getting down to work. When you have finished your draft, go back to the beginning and see if there are words, sentences, even whole paragraphs that don’t lead directly to the body of the piece.
Here is an example of what I’m talking about. This is my first stab at the opening of this blog post:
In last week’s post, we examined some global ways to approach self-editing. This week, let’s look at more specific techniques. Here are five things to check when you’re going over your draft.For more on wordiness, see Less is More for tips on keeping it clear and simple.
2. Show, don’t tell. Another way to say this is “Dramatize, don’t summarize.“ Example of telling:
Hearing the zombies outside, Evelyn was frightened.
The same scene, dramatized:
CREAK… CREAK… the sound of the rattling door made her shudder, imagining what might be on the other side. Zombies, perhaps dozens of them, pressing against the flimsy wood, trying to break through, to get to her….
3. Use the active voice. The active voice is more dynamic and direct than the passive, for both nonfiction and fiction. It is the difference between “mistakes were made” and “the CEO made several mistakes that resulted in the ruination of the company.”
4. Get rid of participles. Whenever possible, simplify by turning participles into verbs or eliminating them altogether.
She was sitting in the overstuffed chair and crying, waiting for the zombies to eat her brains.Better:
She sobbed in the overstuffed chair, waiting for the zombies to eat her brains.5. Be ruthless. Sometimes you resist necessary changes because you just plain like a sentence or a section.That happened to me in a passage in Pandora’s Genes. In that scene, the Principal and Zach were discussing the succession for rule of the District. I had the Principal say, “I suppose I always thought I would live forever.”
I liked that sentence. To me, it summed up the Principal’s character. But the scene just didn’t work. The rhythm was wrong and the entire dialogue rang somehow false. It took me seven or eight revisions, trying different ways to insert the sentence, to realize that the sentence simply didn’t fit. Once I got rid of it, I easily finished the scene.
Moral: If something just doesn’t work, and none of the above suggestions help, KILL the thing that doesn’t work.
Next week: Pandora’s Promise: progress report