So here’s a little list of what I’m doing to prep my first 20 pagers for my critique group. I’ve already given some off to others for a preliminary read but some of this is 100% independent revision. So here’s what I do:
1. Go to Wordle. I mentioned this a while back (becomingauthor.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/wordle-and-poetry) to use to keep track of what words you overuse. Scrivener does the same thing under Project > Text Statistics > Word Frequency but also picks up on words like “the” “was” “is.” Scriveners is more useful for revision but Wordle is 1) much prettier 2) free. So check it out. I’ve shared Wordles before, here’s a Wordle of my manuscript as of today:
It looks like I really need to edit out the word “back.” Sheesh. Anyway, like any word cloud, the biggest words are the most common… so yes, your main characters are going to be the most common! I don’t think you could edit that out nor would you want to.
2. I edit out passive voice. I love this little Twitter gem for that:
So: She was eaten. Add “by zombies” and it’s still makes sense: She was eaten by zombies. And typically passive voice is pretty simple to edit out: Zombies ate her. Much more powerful, more interesting, etc.
I also work on passive verbs: am, was, are, is. They’re not as easy to edit out, unfortunately, but work on it. Save your passive verbs for moments when you want the reader to slow down and pause in time. BUT mostly try to kick them out as much as possible.
3. Suck it up and admit when something in your scene is just fluff! “I like cats so the MC likes cats.” Okay, SO WHAT? Channel your inner teenager and pile on the sass as you ask your scenes, “SO WHAT?” If you can’t answer them, they might not be necessary. Further, “Because I like it,” isn’t good enough.
4. Adjectives, cut them out. You may be saying, “But those are what add detail,” and you’re partially right. HOWEVER, don’t rely on them as a crutch. If you think adding detail is making “The ball bounced.” into “The big, red, round ball bounced.” then your idea is wrong. Tough love right now, adding adjectives is NOT enough and it’s a juvenile (sorry) attempt at adding detail. There are a ton of ways to change out your adjectives! Practice it on your own and I’ll try to get a post out later this week on some ways to add detail without adding adjectives!
5. Cut out adverbs (most -ly words). The same reason fits for adverbs as does adjectives. Find other ways to say it and it’ll be stronger than “quickly.”
6. Read your draft aloud to yourself. Hearing it makes you slow down and actually read it AND you actually HEAR it. I can’t explain why, but it helps. Promise.
7. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THIS STUFF IN YOUR FIRST DRAFT. If you spend your first draft worrying about any of this your draft won’t flow properly because you’ll be constantly worrying. These are strictly REVISION techniques NOT writing. Writing is about writing, not editing. So write, get it out, let your first draft be shit as Hemingway so lovingly put it: The first draft of everything is shit.
Though I am a huge fan of editing and revision, nothing and I repeat nothing is better than a good critique group. I can recommend to you all the little tips and tricks I use to get my work “polished” for others to read, but that will never, ever replace a good critique group. Keep in mind that you need to find a critique group with a variety of genres, styles, and personalities to get solid feedback from. The most important thing to a good critique group is honesty: if you worry too much about hurting each other’s feelings, than you’re not going to make any progress and neither is anyone in your group. Learn to be mean and learn to take it. Criticism isn’t bad, negativity is. Those are two different beasts and as soon as you and your critique group learn that, the better.