During the first draft of a novel, the writing can sometimes be pretty ordinary. We are intent on getting the story on paper and we write what we are familiar with. The challenge is to freshen everything up in the second draft. Here are just a few pointers that haven't been covered here in a while:
AVOID clichés and shop-worn phrases.
I recently edited a book and the author wanted to keep all the clichés, defending her stance with the fact that people use clichés all the time. She didn’t seem to understand that that is the main reason a good author avoids them. Give the reader something fresh and original. Another author tried to justify her clichés by pointing out how many books get published that have them. My response was that that doesn’t make it okay.
How many times have you read something like: Her heels clicked across the hard tile of the floor? That is okay writing, but it could be stronger. Here is an example I just read: “Her exit was a castanet solo of stiletto heels.” (From Gone, by Jonathan Kellerman.)
It’s possible that Kellerman wrote it that way in the first draft, but I doubt it. Gems like that come in the second and third drafts when an author scrutinizes every word and every phrase to see if he can come up with a stronger one.
LOOK for ways to go against type or what is expected, and be careful about stereotyping characters: The black drug dealer, the Italian mobster, the Irish drunk, the lazy Hispanic.
In a mystery series I'm working on that features two women homicide detectives in Dallas, I purposely developed the white woman with a seedy background and the black woman from a middle class family.
TURN vague words or phrases into specific details that add life to the work. EXAMPLE:
"She danced to the beat of the music" is pretty ordinary and vague.
"Her entire body moved in soft, undulating waves matching the rhythmic bass pulse in Al Stewart’s TIME PASSAGES." Much stronger.
So, look at some of the sentences in your current WIP and see where you can freshen up your salad.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.