Simple Tips to Strengthen Your Writing
It's been a while since I sat down to write a specific post for writers and I started missing it! I'm deep in the throes of copyedits (America's Sweetheart, out October 2018), so this is the perfect time to share some "tips" on how to strengthen writing. Why? Because when you're editing you notice more of those pesky "bad" habits weakening your writing like Kryptonite to Superman.
When writing a first draft, you should almost always let these go. There is a time and a place to pick apart your sentences and think about your author crutch words, but a first draft is the wrong time to do that.
Wait until the content is solid and the emotional tension balanced with the help of your trusty editor. When your copyeditor returns your manuscript noting technical missteps, that's the time to put on your hardhat, grab your clipboard, and start inspecting.
In this blog, I'm sharing five simple tips to strengthen your writing... Just don't call them rules.
Writing is an art. And yes, I know grammar rules are totally a thing, but even those aren't absolute! I have one publisher who specifies cellphone (one word) and another who prefers cell phone (two words). I have one publisher who adds oxford commas, and a another who removes every last one from my book. Don't even get me started on dashes in between words... that seems to be completely at the whim of individual copyeditors!
Point being: This is why authors have editors! As a storyteller, your job is make the reader love your characters and feel what they're feeling. Let the editor help you boost your story, let your copyeditor help you with technicalities, and above all else don't forget rule #1:
This is your book. If it doesn't feel right to make a change, STET or talk to your editor.
Here are my 5 tips, in no particular order:
(1) He knew, he thought, he felt
If you're writing in deep POV anyway, these phrases can be redundant. The hero is sharing the contents of his head on the page with the reader, so it's assumed that we're privy to what he's "thinking" or "feeling" or what he "knows." Here are a few examples:
- He knew she'd been to his house before.
- He thought she looked happier than usual.
- He felt the bolt of lightning in his spine when she kissed him.
Those extra words can come across redundant and distancing. Lose them. An easy way to tell if you need the additional phrases is to simply take them out and reread the sentences without:
- She'd been to his house before.
- She looked happier than usual.
- A bolt of lightning zapped his spine when she kissed him.
🔥 HOT TIP
Writing has a rhythm not unlike a piece of music or song lyrics. If your sentence/scene "sounds" better with one or two of these guys left in there, leave them in and write it off as your unique author voice.
(2) He said/she said
We need to know who's talking in a scene but he said/she said doesn't need to follow every. single. quote.
Take this exchange for example:
"I know," he said, refilling his glass.
"What do you mean you know?" She frowned.
"I know exactly how you feel about pancakes. I was the one who taught you syrup was better warm."
"Maybe not. Maybe there was another guy in my life who enlightened me to the benefits of warm syrup?"
Jax leaned in, fire in his eyes. "I was your first for lots of things, Allie. Warm syrup included."
In this (ridiculous and fictitious) exchange, it's clear who's talking without including a he said/she said after each quote. I could also omit that first one, letting the action or "beat" substitute those two tired words. Swapping them with an action instead sets the scene and is far more interesting.
🔥 HOT TIP
"I know," he said, refilling his glass.
"I know." He refilled his glass.
(3) Only, that, just, probably, and other author crutch words
Every author has words they lean on when drafting. Sometimes you need them, sometimes you can lose them and your writing is stronger, clearer for it. The trick is knowing when to ax them and when to keep them. There's no right or wrong answer here. If you feel like you've said "smile" too many times in a row, find an adjective for it or delete every other one in favor of a different "beat" (action) to detail instead.
(4) Technically it's right, but it's also boring
During the copyediting stage, often changes are suggested from a copyeditor to make the sentence technically correct. This step is crucial to your writing! Copyeditors have a knack for pointing out timeline inconsistencies, words that are missed, and words that are misused.
But sometimes a CE might suggest changing a word for clarity. For example: changing a "dent" in her brow to "furrow," or the "stud" of his jeans to "button." In those cases, what word you choose should be correct, but it should also highlight your particular author voice. If you like stud better than button for all the meanings it infers, or maybe you just used the word button in the sentence before referring to his shirt, by all means reply with STET and move on.
For example, In my current manuscript, the copyeditor suggested I remove "baring her legs" from this sentence: Allie walked into the room in a mini skirt baring her legs. The copyeditor's reasoning is sound. It's redundant. That makes total sense, right? DUH. Mini skirts are cut so that a woman's legs are showing. BUT. When I thought about it a bit deeper, I realized why I had included that detail. I want the reader to notice what my hero is noticing: That it's Allie. Walking into a room. Wearing a mini skirt. Baring her legs. He's looking and I want the reader to look with him, especially because her legs are a particular weakness for him.
🔥 HOT TIP
The above are perfect examples of a copyeditor being technically right but cases where I felt the scene lost a bit of its zing by doing as they suggested. STET!
(5) Name dropping IS NOT a sport
In fiction, especially third person point of view fiction, mentioning character names are commonplace. Mentioning them is also necessary in scenes where there are several characters having a conversation. You can't simply type "he" this and "he" that if there are three "hes" in the room, now can you?
For the most part, your readers will overlook name-dropping, and the hero's name and "he" will be almost synonymous in their minds. But, when you have your hero and heroine on the page alone, the last thing you want to do is distance your reader from that intimate exchange by mentioning the hero and heroine's names too often. In that case, default to "he" and "she" especially during romantic scenes.
Sometimes the name-drop is sexy: I'm a big fan of the "Oh, Jax." But sometimes it's a writing habit that needs clipped. "Jackson kisses his way down my throat" followed by "I let Jackson lower me to the couch" can pull the reader back when you want them leaning in. Try using he and she instead and see how the scene works without the names. For variety, throw in the names of your hero and heroine, but don't be too liberal about it.
Coming soon books from Jessica Lemmon
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What do you have to say about the blog above? Did any of the tips serve as helpful reminders? Any ah-ha! moments?