In the spirit of spring cleaning, sometimes it’s good to look at your writing for any excess clutter. In these cases, you can indulge the urge to abuse the delete key because our goal is to make our writing concise. A few little changes during the line editing phase can do wonders to bring clarity and rhythm back to your writing. Here we will go over a few quick steps to feng shui your prose.
Adverbs, while a valid part of speech, tend to clutter. At their base level, adverbs describe how something is done. However, where you could use an adverb you might have more success using a strong verb. We want our writing to be purposed and have a strong sense of action. When editing your work in progress, take two things into account: would the sentence be any weaker without the adverb? Could the adverb be replaced with a more specific verb?
Consider the difference between the writing in these two examples:
The glass broke loudly.
The glass shattered.
Impact is heightened with a shortened sentence, the few less syllables brings us to the action faster. Additionally, to shatter is much more evocative in terms of the action we are trying to describe.
As another example of weak use of adverbs, consider these two sentences:
“You’re so funny,” she said flirtatiously.
“You’re so funny.” She leaned in, collapsing the distance between them.
In this case, the adverb isn’t doing enough for its inclusion. Adverbs to describe dialogue are almost always a bad idea because they don’t add any action. It’s more engaging to depict the scene as opposed to wasting a modifier on an invisible verb such as “said.” Saying is not as interesting as doing.
Continuing our previous discussion of adverbs, adjectives have their own problems. Noun-modifiers can be gluttonous territory. As writers, we love to describe everything to its last molecule, but we need to reign ourselves in. Sometimes, adjectives are implied without need of description.
Consider the following example:
White snow fell in the open field.
Most people would assume that snow is white without being told so. Additionally, fields are, by nature, open spaces. The inclusion of these adjectives are useless because they offer nothing the reader wouldn’t already assume. Now, if the snow was yellow – I’d like to know.
Repetition is its own issue, but participial phrases can start to sound a bit too lyrical if strung together for too long. Participial phrases are simply verbs that end with “-ing.” The problem they bring to writing is how they transform different verbs into versions that sound similar. A funny way to think of it is that repeating participial phrases makes your writing sound like a chainsaw, “ing, ing, ing!”
Consider the following example:
“I want to take a nap,” Carol says, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
Dave nods, passing her an energy drink. “Agreed.”
Staring at the can, she considers opening it. “These things taste horrible.”
That became rather grating to read, right? “Ing” starts to rhyme together after a while and it makes the sentences come off uniform. Let’s fix it up.
“I want to take a nap,” Carol says as she rubs the sleep from her eyes.
Dave nods and passes her an energy drink. “Agreed.”
She stares at the can, unsure whether to open it. “These things taste horrible.”
We get rid of the participial phrases and now the ugly rhythm has gone away. These phrases are fine in solo settings, but they aren’t great in group activity.
Filtering is a term to describe a writer funneling the world through a perspective. This is not to be confused with expressing your character’s thoughts and reactions, rather it describes an unnecessary preface to convey facts. Instead of simply stating an observation, a character must notice it. This problem often comes up when the narrator mentions that a character sees something.
Consider these examples:
He saw a cat perched on the windowsill.
She noticed her hair had grown longer.
Let me rephrase these to remove the filtering.
A cat perched on the windowsill.
Her had grown longer.
All the information conveyed in these sentences are items that could be said by the narrator without the need of funneling it through a perspective. By taking away filtering, it draws the reader closer to the writing and allows them to experience the narrative.
A lot of the work to clean up writing comes down to decluttering on the line level. Finding what we need and what can be tidied away will leave your writing with a sense of precision and impact.