One of those most difficult things to figure out on your own as an author isn’t how to conjure up beautiful descriptions or create realistic dialogue (don’t get me wrong, those are both important, but there are lots of books about how to do that), it’s how to smooth out your writing. When you are the one who wrote the novel, it can be extremely difficult to figure out what little things need to be done to improve the flow. Sometimes it’s as simple as removing a few unnecessary words, and I want to take a look at a couple of the culprits that might be keeping your manuscript from shining.
I know–you’re thinking: ‘What’s wrong with there, Bruce? How else am I going to say it when Pete is standing over there?’ It’s not the innocuous positional there I’m talking about, it’s the sneaky little there that signifies a passive construction–there with a ‘to be’ verb hitched on behind it.
There were. There was. Let’s look at some restructuring to make your words flow better.
Passive: There was a bird singing outside the window
Active: A bird sang outside the window.
Passive: There was a man leaning against the lamp-post cleaning his nails.
Active: A man leaned against the lamp-post cleaning his nails.
Here are a couple of examples from the first draft of my upcoming book, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, followed by the final edited versions.
1st: His life was moments from ending and there was little way for him to find dignity in it, so he thought he would at least find some dignity for himself.
Final: With life moments from ending, he saw little dignity in the manner of his death, so he thought to find at least a shred for himself in how he acted.
1st: There were no other circles between, and this one represented Ailyssa’s greatest pain.
Final: No other circles disturbed the rows between, and this last one represented Ailyssa’s greatest pain.
See the difference? Try reading them aloud and you will see how the flow improves. Not only does it smooth out the prose, it also generally cuts down your word count. Hunt down those passive theres and get rid of as many as you can.
Simply put, the word ‘that’ is often superfluous. Read aloud every sentence in which you’ve used it, first with then without, and see if it can be cut.
Example: The couch that you liked is too small.
Removed: The couch you liked is too small.
Example: The red car that you used to own broke down.
Removed: The red car you used to own broke down.
Some before and after examples from WHEN SHADOWS FALL
1st: The thought proved that the opening hadn’t shrunk, and it also prodded him to continue on, despite his misgivings.
Final: The thought proved the opening hadn’t shrunk, and prodded him to continue despite his misgivings.
1st: He inhaled a breath that tasted of magic and grass and rain, then turned and trod back toward the forest.
Final: He inhaled a breath flavored with magic and grass and rain, then spun around and trod back toward the forest.
Two last notes on that: – if removing it creates any confusion in your sentence, by all means live it in.
– if you are referring to a person or people rather than an inanimate object, use who rather than that.
That: The man that stood beside me.
Who: The man who stood beside me.
In editing to remove excess words and smooth out your prose, the FIND feature on your word processor will become your best friend!
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