I'm calling my last year "The Year of First Drafts" (or TYFD), since I wrote 6.5 books...half of which are still pretty much first drafts. I wrote furiously, too many ideas crowding my itty bitty brain. There are still too many ideas up there, but the pressure has been relieved. For the most part, I feel like I can breathe/think again. Except now I have all these first drafts to review...plus the four or five ideas still floating around...
Naturally, this year is turning out to be "The Year of Revision" (TYR). I've been revising one project or another since January: spit shining Allure, putting Void in first person, paper editing Relax, I'm a Ninja, and I just finished a light edit of what I had on my WIP Hammered. TYR has been a lot of work so far...not nearly as fun as TYFD. But I have learned a lot.
I thought I'd share some of the more subtle things I've picked up in editing. The little ticks that bog down my own writing, and maybe bog down yours too. I've addressed some of these before, but I thought a comprehensive post was in order.
Force your characters to commit to their actions. Unless it is truly a halfway action, let those verbs speak. This happens when I use quantifiers in unnecessary places. Common offenders: almost, nearly, about, just, only
Example: She almost ran to the door. => She ran to the door.
Example of necessary quantifier: He almost spat in her face, but decided against it.
I'm still trying to break my love affair with dialogue tags, especially those that describe exactly how my character said what they said. I think these are my own writer notes in first draft—reminding myself how the character is reacting as I get to know them. Revision has removed 70% of them.
Example: "Thanks a lot," she said vehemently as she placed her hands on her hips. => "Thanks a lot." She put her hands on her hips.
This is another way I don't let my characters fully commit to their actions. I throw them into weird, unnecessary progressive setups. These can be eliminated for the most part.
Example: I started writing the number. => I wrote the number.
Example of Necessary: I started writing the number, but he interrupted.
Mostly a first person issue, but still something to be wary of in third, especially if you have a more casual style. My "chattiness" usually comes out in rampant interjections, but it can also be found in fragments, slang, and unconventional punctuation/formatting. None of this is "bad;" it just needs to be kept in balance. Otherwise the prose will be too choppy.
Example: Sure, I was about to go all postal on her, but it wasn't my fault, ya know? => I was about to go postal on her, but it wasn't my fault!
I've found most of my repetitiveness to be in "explaining" what my characters just said. This is one of the newest quirks I've discovered; I really didn't know I did this. Let the characters talk; trust that the reader will get it. People who read are smart.
Example: "He won't be bloody still, right?" Stu asked. The guy was squeamish about blood to say the least. Ketchup made him woozy...even fruit punch. => "He won't be bloody, right?" Stu asked. Ketchup made him woozy...even fruit punch.
Sometimes I stay so firmly in my character's head that I overuse their POV, if that makes any sense. Some of these can be removed. Common offenders: looked, seemed, knew, thought, wondered.
Example: The nurse looked like she was about to laugh. => The nurse was about to laugh.
Example: I knew I didn't have to sing, but I wanted to. => I didn't have to sing, but I wanted to.
When I'm writing, I picture the scene unfolding in a certain way and usually over explain what people are doing while they talk. Common offenders: to, from, away, at (+me/her/him/etc.)
Example: "Did you get dropped on your head as a baby?" He stared at me, right through me it seemed.
I glared right back at him, though he couldn't see. "Actually, yes. I almost died. Thanks for bringing it up."
"Oh." He turned away from me, looking at the black board in front of him.
=> "Did you get dropped on your head as a baby?" He stared through me.
I glared right back, though he couldn't see. "Actually, yes. I almost died. Thanks for bringing it up."
"Oh." He turned back to the black board.
We all have them: favorite words and phrases, descriptors we use as a crutch when we blank, common interjections, typical sentence structures, etc. They differ with each writer, but it's important to know your own so you can even them out in revisions. I'll share a few of mine that I'm always on the lookout for:
a little, just, even, dude, okay, cool, incredible, suddenly, awesome, totally, "started+verb," compound sentences, em dashes, and italics/caps for emphasis.
Happy editing, everyone.