As promised, here is the second installment of line editing.
As you go through your manuscript to make the prose sparkle, here are some more things to look for:
Vague words – something, anything, unspecific nouns.
EXAMPLE: A noise from the direction of the basement scared her.
BETTER: Hearing the faint scraping of metal against concrete, Becky backed away from the basement door.
Weak verbs – was, is, are, to be, ‘ing’ words, starts to, begins to, etc.
WEAK: Sam is not a very open person.
STRONG: Sam protects his feelings like an emotional miser.
Any phrase or word that is not needed.
EXAMPLE: laughed (to herself), shrugged (his shoulders), nodded (his head)
Be especially conscious of reflexive pronouns: herself, himself, themselves. They are often not needed and a sign of weak writing.
Something that is commonly used is having a character "find" himself or herself. Perhaps that is not grammatically incorrect, but I'm not sure it reflects the best we can do with the craft of writing. If you think about what the word means – locate, see, discover – it is clear that it is poor usage to have characters ‘finding’ themselves.
Check for "ly" words. A well-placed adverb can add to a story, but if your prose is filled with them, it diminishes the writing. And often replacing the adverb with something specific makes the writing more vivid.
EXAMPLE: He crossed the room quietly.
BETTER: He crossed the room, footsteps landing like feathers on the tile.
I'm sure there are other things that people find in their work to change for the better. If you have some examples, please share them in the comments.
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.