NaNo is over and now I have to edit all the words I churned out during November. I’m not just agonizing over word choice or fiddling with punctuation. I’m keeping an eye out for specific problems in my writing. I’ve noticed six frequent weaknesses in my work. Maybe you have them too.
1. Passive Voice
For some reason, I write in the passive voice too much to be acceptable. The subject should be doing something instead of just being affected. Passive voice isn’t engaging or interesting while active voice makes for a more exciting, immersive narrative.
(Passive) Jeremy was scared of the skeleton.
(Active) The skeleton scared Jeremy.
Both sentences essentially say the same thing, but you can automatically tell which is better.
2. Overused Words or Phrases
Everyone is guilty of using the same words or phrases over and over. In everyday speech, it’s absolutely fine. No one is going to turn to you and say “Hey buddy, you’ve said ‘so to speak’ in every third sentence and you’re starting to piss me off!”
In a novel, it’s a different story. I’ve found I use ‘almost like’ too much. Like when I’m describing a location. ‘The tower rose into the sky, almost like a needle ready to inject insulin into the diabetic clouds’. ‘Almost like’ is weak writing. It should always definitely be something.
3. Adverbs and Modifiers
Let’s take a look. Which is stronger?
Jeremy walked quickly away from the skeleton.
Jeremy fled from the skeleton.
The first sentence had more words, but that doesn’t mean anything. ‘Fled’ is a stronger, more dynamic word than ‘walked quickly’. It conveys panic and fear. ‘Walk quickly’ is the thing you do when you’re looking for a restroom.
Don’t use more words to build up the verb you chose. Pick a stronger verb.
And don’t say ‘really’ or ‘very’. Find a better word. Instead of ‘very dark’, say ‘black as the uncountable miles between stars’. Or, you know, however dark it was.
I’m trying to wean myself off of using italics to emphasize a certain word in my writing. I don’t need to tell my reader exactly how I want them to interpret a sentence.
For example, I found this in my manuscript:
“Dude, I’m not ancient,” Tom said. “I made it to, like, seventy during my last life.”
I have to have faith that the reader will get it. He’s not ancient. That’s obvious. The stress is not important or needed.
5. Show, Don’t Tell
In my current manuscript, I’ve got a huge, meaty paragraph full of details about two characters’ first meeting when they were in high school. All of it was written in the past tense and it just served to tell the reader about an important event. I needed to show the recollection.
I ended up scrapping the whole paragraph. While reading Stephen King’s It I saw a way to show what happened to a character without just giving a description of it. It’s perfectly okay to write out a memory, throw it in italics (which is okay in this situation; italics aren’t always bad), and use powerful transitions before and after to help guide the reader along the way.
That leads me to my last point:
6. Changing EVERYTHING about Your Writing
I’ve got a bad habit of reading an author and jiving with their writing style. Jiving so hard that I view my own writing as garbage and I read over my work with an unhealthy lens. “I enjoyed their work so hard. My work looks nothing like that. Therefore, my work should look like theirs!”
Don’t be like me. Sure, learn what you can from more experienced writers, but don’t go and completely change your voice. I mentioned reading It and learning a method of showing, not telling, but I’m not going to rewrite my whole manuscript to match that of Stephen King, circa 1986. I noticed all sorts of adverbs being used, as well as dialogue tags other than ‘said’ or ‘asked’. An editor nowadays would suggest a lot of changes in his manuscript. My point is, writing goes through fads, trends, and fashions just like anything else. Writing changes and mutates over the years. Learn the current rules, find your voice, and just keep writing.