by Alissa Lukara
You have finished a rough draft of a chapter or book, filled with bursts of inspiration. You have done some rewriting. You wonder, What can I do next to make this manuscript shine?
Check out these easy writing fixes – all of which you can access with the straightforward search and replace feature of your word processor. They appear simple, yet in my experience, they stand as guaranteed writing enhancers that charge up your manuscript’s rhythm and momentum. I put them on my revision “must dos” for every book or article I write.
These fixes also offer a tangible benefit when you begin to submit your manuscript. Unless you address them, these words wave “red flags” at an editor or agent. You know – those flags that can land you in the reject pile or trash basket.
My easy fixes come in the form of word groups. Here are five sets of words I search for and replace or delete in my writing whenever possible.
1. To be verbs: is, was, are, were, be, being, been.
Find stronger, active verbs to replace them. Here’s a great list of action verbs you can download and use: http://www.cvisual.com/film-techniques/writer-action-verb-list.asp
2. A search on “to be” verbs also unearths where you used the “passive voice,” instead of the active. In active voice, the subject performs the action. In passive, the subject is passive and the object stands at the forefront.
For instance, revise the passive “The guest’s ring for service was answered by the valet” to the active, “The valet answered the guest’s ring for service.”
Don’t crucify yourself if you slip and use passive in your drafts – even when you know better. That is what rewriting is for. Who cares why you did it? Eliminating it gives you the opportunity to breathe new life into the sentence.
3. Root out “ly” words. They
are tend to be attached to adverbs. And the standard editorial mandate for today’s market states, Eliminate as many adverbs as possible. Find stronger, active verbs to replace those adverbs. Remember that list of action verbs from before? Draw from it here, too: http://www.cvisual.com/film-techniques/writer-action-verb-list.asp
Or, make up and unearth your own verb replacements. The thesaurus remains the writer’s best friend for editing. Or, you can brainstorm active verb lists.
During a recent presentation at Southern Oregon Willamette Writer’s, Molly Best Tinsley, author, playwright and co-founder of Fuze Publishing, suggested we create lists of active verbs we associate with sports, food/eating and locomotion.
Take a moment and do it now. Brainstorm your own list, starting with 10 verbs for each topic. You will discover the verbs you access can apply to many circumstances in your writing beyond the obvious subject matter of sports, food and locomotion. For example, you can fry your brain as well as a piece of chicken and take that proverbial leap of faith as well as leap over a bar in a pole vault.
4. Writers all have words they tend to repeat throughout their manuscripts. Or those “go-to” unnecessary words that slip in when your attention wanders. Make a list of your favorites, then search them out and find alternatives or
simply delete, delete, delete. I also have a list of “fill” words or word combinations I use as an unconscious fallback. When I edit, I do an automatic search to eliminate most of them. Here’s my list:
Just. Now. Only. Rather. Quite. Even. In fact. In truth. Almost. Simply. Suddenly.
5. A few words intensify. Maybe. These words intensify in theory, but in reality – get rid of them.
Why? How about because they scream “waste basket” at editors?
“Very” stands at or near the top of that list. You do not need it. Stick with the real word you wrote minus the “very.” Trust me. “Happy” expresses as much joy as “very happy.” “The dog I saw” says as much as “the very dog I saw.”
If you must intensify, find a stronger adjective or adverb, noun or verb to replace “very” and the word it intensifies. Or look for a metaphor.
I love this Mark Twain quote that emphasizes the role of “very.” He says, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
“Really” is another one. It’s an ‘ly’ word, so you may have caught it with that search for “ly” adverbs, but in case you did not, consider these examples. “She was really very tall” versus “She was tall.” Better yet, “She towered over the tallest boy in her sophomore class by six inches.” The “really” sounds like you don’t believe what you are writing and want to convince someone. Yourself maybe?
“Suddenly.” Need I say more.
Really? Very simply. Get rid of it.
What I love about these search and replace writer favorites is their
very simplicity. So much about writing is presents a challenge. Let’s celebrate these easy fixes that offer us so much writing gain with so little writing effort.
What are your favorite easy writing fixes? Share them here. Or, show us how applying simple search and replace edits brought your manuscript to life.
Alissa Lukara, the author of the memoir, Riding Grace: A Triumph of the Soul, supports writers to transform self-doubt and other writing challenges to complete their books in her online writing workshop, Writing Books that Transform Lives. Find out about the next session that begins March 5th. Early registration ends Thursday, March 1. Meanwhile, find out how writing can change your life by registering here for the free eCourse, Writing as a Transformational Journey. Registering for it automatically signs you up to the email list to receive notice of new blog postings, writer resources and other Transformational Writers events as well.