New writers can sometimes feel as if they aren’t making progress fast enough. The necessary skills aren’t likely to appear overnight–there’s that whole “10,000 hours of practice” thing. Yet there are simple and quick ways to improve your sentences. We’ll discuss three of them today and save a second set of three for next week’s post
Writing Tip for Today: Cut out the flab from your fiction at the sentence level by implementing these easy tips:
Toss Out Was Ings
The number one blunder made by writers of all experience levels is to rely too heavily upon the “was __ing” construction. He was playing, she was walking, the dog was barking, the cat was hissing. Each of these examples could eliminate the “was” and use the simple past tense form of the ing word next to it: He played, she walked, the dog barked and the cat hissed. A was __ing sentence not only adds unneeded words, it implies the motion is continuous. Should writers EVER use a was __ing? Only you can answer, but for the most part stick to the simpler past (or if writing in present) tense.
Forget Dialog Fillers
Writers are encouraged to give dialog a natural sound. The quest for believable dialog often ends with the addition of fillers–those ums, ers, well and the like that people casually toss into their live conversations. The thing about dialog is that it sounds like real speech but it isn’t. Readers won’t stand for much reality in dialog, especially if it involves a long-winded story that goes nowhere or speech loaded down with fillers. Go ahead and draft with the uhs and ohs in the dialog. But when you rewrite, take out these extraneous words. Then read the same line of dialog. Chances are, you won’t miss those extra fillers. A better way to show hesitancy or indecision might be with body language or even the other character’s responses.
Befriend Specific Verbs
You thought I’d attack those poor ly words, the adverbs, didn’t you? In a way, tightening your sentences by choosing specific verbs is rejecting adverb usage. If you write, “He trudged,” you don’t have to say he walked slowly. If you find a verb which describes an action to a tee, you can turn your back on a host of modifiers, including those dreaded “lys.” Some verbs most often used in fiction are too general to give readers a clear picture. These include look, talk, walk, move, put, place, see, and do. Replace them with verbs that allow readers to imagine exactly what you had in mind as you wrote. You’ll tighten your sentences and keep your readers reading.
Next time: Three more easy ways to tighten sentences.