I am a firm believer in the benefits of going back through a manuscript several times. The first rewrite is to deal with story issues, but a second or third draft should focus on ways to improve our use of language. Sometimes we write in such a hurry that we overlook the fact that the word placement and usage may not be quite right.
"Sirens screamed, bouncing off the buildings and deafening me. "
Wait a minute. Were the sirens bouncing off the building or the sound? "Sirens screamed, the noise bouncing off the buildings and deafening me."
"As I pulled into the warehouse parking lot, the smell of smoke lingered in the air."
For some reason that just didn't read smoothly to me. Perhaps it is better this way? "Stepping out of my car in the warehouse parking lot, I caught the lingering odor of smoke."
"She tapped my forehead with the revolver then slipped it into the pocket of her blazer."
Oops, she didn't slip the forehead into the pocket. "She tapped my forehead with the revolver, then slipped the weapon into the pocket of her blazer."
There are times we may tack a phrase on the end of a sentence that is not needed.
"I heard that Royce is having some problems with his health."
That way is correct, but could it be better this way? "I heard that Royce is having some health problems."
The use of pronouns can be tricky if we don't pay close attention, and we have to be careful not to write ourselves into a pronoun maze. "Leslie was a bit surprised that Mandy had not told her, but then she had been a bit distracted the past couple of weeks." Maybe you can fix the pronoun problem?
Something that I always have to be mindful of is not sticking with the first thing I wrote.
"She filled the sink with water and washed the dishes."
That is so bland. Sentences like that are so much better when specific details are added. "She filled the sink with water and slipped the egg-crusted plates into the suds."
In a book I recently read for review, I was a bit put off by the frequent use of adverbs, but there are times when a well-placed adverb works. The following example came from Kristen Lamb's blog. She commented that generally one should avoid using adverbs to show how someone is speaking. For example, "She whispered quietly."
Lamb wrote, "Okay, as opposed to whispering loudly? Quietly is implied in the verb choice. Ah, but what if you want her to whisper conspiratorially? Or whisper sensually? The adverbs conspiratorially or sensually tells us of a very specific types of whispers, and are not qualities automatically denoted in the verb. Therefore, the adverb use works in those instances."
I have been known to rail against having people bark, especially when barked is used as a dialogue attributive, but there are some rare instances when bark works. "Olivier gave a bark of a laugh." From Still Life by Louise Penny.
Now it's your turn. What are some of the improvements you have made by carefully crafting your words? Have anything to share from a book you are reading?
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is a police-procedural mystery, Open Season , available as an e-book for all devices. The second book in the Seasons Series, Stalking Season, releases this month. It has received a STARRED review from Publisher's Weekly, and a nice review from Kirkus. If you would like to read the books, you can ask for them at your local library.To check out Maryann's editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.