Rayne Hall shows us how to mince words and add pop to your prose.
Welcome to RU, Rayne!
Here are five tricks to slim down your words, tone up your style, and reveal the muscle of your author voice.
Certain words add fat to your manuscript. You may use them out of habit, even though you don’t need them. Cut them, and your writing will instantly stand stronger.
- Cut The Word ‘Could’
Use your word processor’s ‘find’ function to highlight every time you’ve used this word. Then assess if you really need it. In most cases, you’ll find that it can go without loss, especially when the character could see/could hear/could feel/could taste/could sense something.
Look at these two sentence examples:
She could see the corners of his eyes crinkle.
He could hear a door slam at the far end of the corridor.
Without ‘could’ these sentences are tighter and stronger:
She saw the corners of his eyes crinkle.
He heard a door slam at the far end of the corridor.
If you’ve established a clear point of view, you don’t even need to tell us that the character sees/hears/feels/tastes/senses the event. To give your sentence a strong, toned physique, simply write:
The corners of his eyes crinkled.
At the far end of the corridor, a door slammed.
- Cut The Words ‘Begin’ And ‘Start’
You may be using the words ‘begin to’ and ‘start to’ without noticing.
His stomach began to rumble.
She started to run.
He started to shiver.
The dog began to growl.
Search for them in your manuscript (begin/begun/began, start), and get rid of most instances:
His stomach rumbled.
The dog growled.
- Cut The Word ‘Look’
Many writers, especially novices, write ‘he looked at her’ and ‘she looked at him’ repeatedly, not realising how tedious this becomes for the reader.
Of course, people look at one another all the time, especially when they’re talking, and it’s natural that your fiction characters look at one another too. But you don’t have to write it down every time they do.
In dialogue, it’s a given that the speaker looks at the person she or he addresses.
She looked at him and frowned. “What do you mean?”
This can be tightened to:
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
The same applies when a character is in some way engaged with the other. The reader assumes that there’s a look involved, no need to spell it out.
He looked at her and brushed a strand of hair from her face.
He brushed a strand of hair from her face.
- Cut The Word ‘Turn’
One of the words most over-used by novices is ‘turn’ – characters constantly turn towards or away from one another, turn towards or away from something, or simply turn to go somewhere.
You can cut almost all those turns.
He turned to her, placed a warm hand on her shoulder and murmured her name.
She dropped the crate, turned and raced to the exit.
He changed his mind, turned and strode to the police station.
Here’s the tighter version of these sentences:
He placed a warm hand on her shoulder and murmured her name.
She dropped the crate and raced to the exit.
He changed his mind and strode to the police station.
- Cut Most Adverbs
Adverbs are those explanatory words ending with ‘ly’ and while they’re not wrong, they weaken your writing style. Use them only where needed.
At first glance, it may seem like an adverb is necessary to clarify what’s going on. But adverbs explain verbs, and by choosing a more expressive verb, you can ditch the adverb.
She walked determinedly to the manager’s office.
She marched to the manager’s office.
“I won’t,” he said angrily.
“I won’t,” he snapped.
“He didn’t mean it,” she said soothingly.
“He didn’t mean it,” she soothed.
She walked quickly to get to the shop before it closed.
She hurried to get to the shop before it closed.
- Cut Most Dialogue Tags
In dialogue scenes, tags (such as ‘he said’ and ‘she asked’) can be useful to show who’s talking. But you don’t need a tag every time a character opens their mouth to speak.
If the character does something, the action is enough to attribute the speech.
Kylie rummaged through her tote bag. “I can’t find my phone,” she said.
Kylie rummaged through her tote bag. “I can’t find my phone.”
It’s pretty clear that it’s Kylie talking, don’t you think?
Here’s another opportunity for cutting tags: If two characters are in conversation, and one character asks a question, it’s obvious that it’s the other who replies, so the reply doesn’t need a tag.
Let’s say Kylie and Ben are travelling on the train together.
Kylie rummaged through her tote bag. “Where’s my phone?”
“I have no idea,” Ben replied.
Kylie rummaged through her tote bag. “Where’s my phone?”
“I have no idea.”
Which of those six ‘fatty word habits’ do you have in your writing? What other unnecessary words can writers cut? Leave a comment to tell us about them. Any questions? Just ask. I’ll be around for a week and will reply.
THE WORD-LOSS DIET – Tighten and tone your writing style, and use simple revision tricks to slim down your manuscript. Shed thousands of words without changing the plot. Strip away the word fat and reveal the muscle of your unique author voice. This book is short, but potent. It is perfect for – self-editing before you submit your book to agents and publishers, or before self-publishing – understanding why your stories get rejected, or why so few readers buy your book after downloading the sample chapters – taking your writing craft skills to the next level – polishing your writing style for the move from amateur to professional The book is based on Rayne Hall’s popular class of the same title which has helped many writers shed word weight and develop a leaner, stronger writing style. Some authors say the class was the best investment they ever made. Now you can study the techniques in book form at your own pace. Please note: This book assumes that you have some fiction writing experience. You’ll benefit most if you’ve already mastered the basics of the craft and want to learn specialist techniques. It is not recommend for absolute beginners.
Bio: Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.
She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.
Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.
You can follow here on Twitter http://twitter.com/RayneHall where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.
To see her books on Amazon, go to viewAuthor.at/RayneHall.
Rayne’s website is here: http://raynehallauthor.wix.com/rayne-hall
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