by Bonnie S. Calhoun
This is a fast and down-dirty review of the things you should look for as you go through your self-edit of your manuscript. If you can catch all these, you’ve got a good start to a great manuscript.
These are words that weaken the writing, thus the story. We sometimes type them in without realizing they are there. After you finish your first draft take this list of weasel words and do a search and find of each one. Then try to eliminate them. You will not be able to remove them all. But you would be amazed at how many you really don’t need. For the sake of brevity, Google “weasel words” and you will find numerous lists of the offending words.
Also avoid …ly …ing or …ness words
Odd conjunctives …as …then …and …but
Eliminate all uses of ‘to be’ if possible. Look at every verb in your mss and change weak ones to stronger. Replace adverbs with stronger verbs.
Dead Verbs …walked, turned, crossed, run, ran, go, went, gone, leave, left, has, had, get, got . . .
These words show that you are telling. Remove the words and rephrase to show, not tell: seem, seemed, wonder, wondered, thought, knew, felt . . .
Are you supposed to remove all weasel words? No. Simply make sure that you know they are there and are serving a purpose. Try to limit the number of was/were words to one or two a page. My goal is two a scene, how about you?
In my experience, authors (particularly novelists, but ALL authors) tend to use adjectives and adverbs to dress things up when they can’t find the right word. The right word is what good writing is all about. If you want punch and strength in your writing, write with nouns and verbs.
Lots of telling . . . Words to look for… “she saw” “heard” felt” “was” etc.
Lots of passive . . . “was” is a big red flag. The use of the word “was” in certain settings renders the work passive. Don’t throw them all out though. The best test is: If you use “was” with an “ing” verb, it’s passive. I was dropping – change to I dropped; I was walking – change to I walked or ran or stomped.
RUE – Resist the urge to explain.
Telling your readers about your character emotions are not the best way to get your readers involved. Instead of saying, “Barbara looked at the dent in her car and screamed in fury.”
Describe the feeling so that the reader feels it to and sees the dent. (let class have a whack at it) Tell them to use a bit of action or interior monologue that shows she’s furious.
POV – one POV per scene, no head hopping.
The next time we will go into plot and structure which are just as important to your edits as the mechanics of writing.
Bonnie S. Calhoun is owner of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, publisher the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Northeast Zone Director for ACFW, ACFW’s ‘Mentor of the Year,’ for 2011, president of Christian Authors Network and her latest book is Pieces of the Heart. Find her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/bscalhoun or
Great post! Thanks for the advice!
tscmshupe [at] pemtel [dot] net
I don’t think all of these rules apply to the synopsis since you are limited to tell the story.
“Was plus “ing” is not passive. Has never been passive. Will never be passive. It is called Imperfect Active Indicative and it is used to depict continuous or ongoing action in the past as opposed to single or momentary action. The New Testament Gospels run riot with it. “While she was painting, the phone suddenly went off like a siren” is an example. Wanton destruction of any part of English speech only weakens good writing, not strengthens it.