From client content to my own manuscripts, I’ve edited a lot of words over the years. While each piece of work is different, there are often similar issues that need rewriting. If you’re currently working on your manuscript (or even just an important email), here are 8 easy ways to improve your writing.
1. Use the active voice, not the passive
This may have been drilled into you at school but there are many benefits of using the active voice. The man threw the ball sounds much more dynamic than the passive version, the ball was thrown by the man. There is a stronger connection to the action and it makes your writing more concise. (This tip may not apply if you’re writing scientific / academic text.)
TIP: When writing, make sure you’re using the subject + verb + object structure.
2. Eliminate unnecessary words
For example, this would include excessive adjectives or language that states the obvious. Also, beware of describing things that didn’t happen, such as: ‘He didn’t answer.’ Lengthy, long-winded writing can bore your reader and appear amateurish.
TIP: Edit ruthlessly and when planning word counts, always remember you’re likely to lose 10% of your work in the editing process.
3. Strike a balance between dialogue and narrative
There are two types of writing – dialogue and narrative description. You need to maintain a good balance between the two and vary the two types. I talk more about this in week 6 of my digital course Kick Start Your Book With Karen
TIP: When you’ve written a chapter, use a highlighter to mark the narrative description leaving the dialogue unmarked. This will give you a visual to assess if there is a good balance.
4. Avoid cliches
Often referred to as lazy writing, cliches should be avoided like the plague. (See what I did there?) Because cliches are so common, we often become immune and not even see them – a second pair of eyes on your work can help.
TIP: Watch out for cliché words and phrases but also for situational cliches such as: it was all a dream.
5. Vary sentence length
Use sentence length for different effects. For example, a short staccato sentence can add drama to a scene or piece of dialogue. Be conscious that varying sentence lengths create rhythm to your writing and alter accordingly.
TIP: Alternate sentence lengths to create a better reading experience.
6. Show don’t tell.
As Chekhov said: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass." This technique will elevate your work instantly and will also test your skill as a writer as you get creative with description.
TIP: Creative writing exercises are an excellent way to develop this skill.
7. Always advance the story
With every sentence, paragraph, and chapter that you write, double-check that it adds something to the story. This is really at the heart of good writing and what readers want – a story that is compelling, engaging, and leaves them wanting to know more.
TIP: An outline of your book – even a rough one - can help you stay on track with your narrative.
8. Choose your verbs carefully
Powerful, dynamic verbs (that don’t rely on adverbs to get the meaning across) will enhance your writing. For example, compare:
The mother ran quickly to her child.
The mother sprinted to her child.
TIP: Identify verbs and adverbs which could be edited to a single verb.
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