Monthly Archives: July 2021

Two Quick Editing Hacks: Remove Filters and Adjectives

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Photo by Elia Pellegrini from Unsplash

Once your story is finished, and all the big things are in place, like setting, character motivation, climax, etc. here are a few editing tips that will make your prose stronger.

  1. Get rid of the “filter” such as “she saw,” “he felt,” “she realized,” “they noticed.” This is called the filter because it filters physical detail though a perceiving consciousness and it generally has a dampening effect. It’s okay to use those terms when you have a good reason to call attention to the character’s perception rather than the physical surroundings. Generally, though, removing the filter forces you to use more active verbs, reduce the number of words, amplify the impact of the physical. Consider these transformations:
He saw a snake ripple in the grass, which startled him. The snake rippled through the grass. He jumped.
She felt like she had been here before.Had she been here before?
He realized he was never going to see his husband the same way again.He was never going to see his husband the same way again.
She fell asleep but woke up when she heard faint music.She fell asleep. Faint music woke her.

2. Use no more than one adjective in a row, and where possible replace adjectives and adverbs with strong verbs. This makes the sentence more vivid and reduces the number of words, while forcing you to construct more active sentences. Consider the following:

The house was full of the scent of fresh-baked bread.The scent of fresh-baked bread filled the house.
The car was loud as it drove by.The car roared past them.
The cats outside my window were fighting loudly all night long.Cats screamed outside my window all night long.
She saw that clouds were coming in rapidly and the sky was turning greenThe sky darkened as clouds raced in.

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Overcoming Writers Block Tip #7: Revise in Layers

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@literarylatte

#stitch with @grimmonds_studios overcoming Writer’s Block, writing in layers #writingtipsandtricks #writertok

♬ Sweden – FamilyJules
Writers can benefit from the idea of writing in layers. You don’t have to get the first paragraph perfect before moving onto the second paragraph. You can write down the broad strokes quickly without critical thought, and return later to add in detail.

Here’s the hard part. There is no particular order or steps for what you should revise in each layer. A quick Google search will reveal a variety of checklists from attention grabber to setting detail, but which do you revise first?

My advice, after you’ve gotten down the first draft, is to ask yourself, what does my character want, and in each scene are they moving toward that desire or away from it? Their movement toward their desire should be thwarted at times, and they themselves should have some trepidation or resistance to change. By the end of the story, the character should have changed, not necessarily for the better. They can go from bad to worse. They can go from stagnant to stuck forever. But there needs to be a change.

Next, you might come back and ask yourself if you have externalized the conflict. The conflict shouldn’t happen all inside their heads or via thought. Instead of having someone think about how annoying a friend is, have the friend come in and do something that annoys them. Also, the resolution shouldn’t be a mere change in thinking-it should be prompted by some external action or event. In Jane Eyre, she doesn’t just decide to return to Rochester at the end, she hears his voice calling her.

When you’ve got your structure, come back and take a look at setting and gesture. Do you have enough? Is the setting doing double duty? Is it relevant? Is it creating mood, developing character, or underscoring a theme?

Next you move to line editing. Here you ask yourself if you are using too many adjectives, or strong enough verbs. I have some editing hacks I’ll share with you in another post.

Finally you proofread. This, for me is the most boring part, because you actually have to stop reading for plot and read only for comma errors, spelling errors, etc. But it has to be done, more than once, and preferably after a break from it all. I always need other readers to help me find my errors. I can proofread three times and not see an error until I come back to it weeks later.

Well, that’s enough for today. Please feel free to add your own comments and tips below.

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Replace or Revamp Clichés

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  • I was thunderstruck
  • Her skin was sunkissed
  • His eyes were bigger than his stomach
  • She was always there for him.
  • He loved her to the moon and back.
  • A chill went down her spine
  • His heart broke
  • He was broken
  • At the end of the day…

A lot of writers would rather be caught dead than caught writing clichés, yet a lot of novice writers don’t realize they’re using them– or actually think they are good. There are many reasons for this. First, we internalize language we like, and uncovering a memory can feel like an invention, second, if you haven’t read a lot, you may not realize how often the phrase has been used, and third, an awful lot of cliché cards and mass market fiction make money.

The problem with cliches (aside from going up in a puff of smoke or being obliterated by the writing police) is that they don’t move people. To the person reading their 105th romance novel, they can be comforting (as when her breast heaves and he gruffly kisses her), but for everyone else it rings hollow and can ruin a good plot.

However, there’s no need to crawl under rock in shame when you write in cliché. Clichés can be place holders when writing a rough draft. Highlight it, keep going, and come back later and meditate on the scene, feel it from the inside, and search for a new way to express it.

A quick fix is to revamp a cliché. “My heart breaks” is old and tired. But “My heart breaks like a stick” (borrowed from a poem I need to track down).

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaewke Emezi is full of inventive similes that help us feel in a new way. Contrast, for example “She ran like the wind,” with “She moved like the ground was falling away beneath her feet, the future running toward her” (Emezi).

Some feel as if they simply cannot come up with new simile or metaphr. If so, try some writing prompts to loosen up, and realize it takes time. Sometimes I’ll write out fifteen different descriptions before I settle on the exact wording or image.

If you suspect something is cliché, ask a friend or search the phrase in Google. If it shows up even once, it’s probably a cliché. It’s always good to be in a writing group or have friends read your work, and above all, keep reading.

Comment below, and let me know if you can’t see the above video without downloading the Tiktok app! I’ve put another version here just in case.

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