When I’m editing, and before I do a final read through and tweaking of my manuscript, I use Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ feature to search for the following ten words. These words can usually be deleted in order to tighten up the writing and focus on ‘showing vs telling’.
Sometimes ‘almost’ can work but often it’s not needed. Eg: With his sunken eyes and pallor he
almost looked like a ghost. An example where it may work could be: She almost slammed the door in his face. Or instead of that, it could be changed to: She resisted the urge to slam the door in his face.
Usually there is a stronger word available to replace the need for ‘very’, or the phrase can be changed completely to something else. Eg: ‘very sad’ could become ‘despondent’. Eg: It was very sunny. Better: It was sunny. Even better: She squinted as the sun’s glare rebounded off the pavement and hit her eyes.
When this is used alongside ‘to’, as in ‘started to’, it’s probably not needed. Eg: She started to get dressed. Better: She got dressed. Even better: She zipped her jeans and put on a t-shirt.
This is similar to ‘started’. Eg: It began to rain. Better: Droplets of rain dampened her hair, or: He flicked on the windscreen wipers as rain blurred the road ahead.
5. stood up
Remove the word ‘up’. If someone stood, it’s obviously up.
6. sat down
Remove the word ‘down’. If someone is going from a standing position to a sitting position it is obviously ‘down’. Except if the person is lying down and then changes to a sitting position.
Removing ‘heard’ or ‘hear’ gives the reader a more vivid experience. Eg: She heard someone call her name. Better: A voice called her name. Eg: I could hear the rain pelting against the window. Better: rain pelted against the window.
Same as with ‘heard’. Eg: She saw his face through the window. Better: His eyes glared at her through the window. Eg: I could see him coming towards me. Better: He came towards me.
Telling a reader what a character felt is not as powerful as showing them. Eg: She felt relaxed and happy. Better: She leaned back in the chair and a smile eased onto her face.
Eg: If she could
just find a way to get through to him, he might understand. Eg: “The shop is just around the corner.”
There are more suggestions of words to search for at this very useful site.
Have a search of your manuscript and see how many of these words you can find and change to improve your book.
Are there words that you often overuse in your writing?
A synopsis is a summary of a novel’s main plot points and characters, from the beginning right through to the end. Most agents and editors like to see one when assessing your manuscript for possible publication, so it’s something almost all writers have to do at some point. I’ve noticed many publishing professionals request a ‘brief synopsis’, which I take to mean about one or two pages at the most. Others may ask for a more detailed five or six page synopsis. But this is something many writer’s struggle with, me included.
How can you possibly take a 300-400 page story and explain it in only one or two pages?
I don’t claim to be an expert on this (far from it, although I do my best!), but here are some things I’ve learned while writing my own synopses. I’ve called it ‘The Russian Doll Method’!
Open your manuscript and summarise all the main plot points, as though you’re giving someone a running commentary on a TV show or movie they can’t see. Use present tense. Don’t worry about length at first, just get the main plot points down (big Russian doll), and add in a taste of your voice, so if it’s humorous, show some of the humour, if it’s suspenseful, add that element to the synopsis too, as long as you don’t leave any questions unanswered. A synopsis’ purpose is to tell a potential agent or editor/publisher what the book is about and what happens throughout the story, including the ending.
Once you’ve written the summary, go through and highlight the most important events affecting the main character/s in yellow. Then highlight the slightly less important events, but still a required part of the story, in another colour such as grey (just one shade, not fifty. Sorry, couldn’t resist;)). You might find that some events can be left out of the synopsis, for the sake of brevity.
Now start again, writing the synopsis focusing on the highlighted parts, and tightening up the sentences (smaller Russian doll). Check the length to see if you need to cut further, and if so, go through the highlighting process again (even smaller Russian doll). Also, see if some plot events can be combined into one sentence as an overall summary of the situation, so rather than:
John arrives at his grandma’s house and notices the door is unlocked. He searches all the rooms in the house, but finds them empty, so he walks out the back door and through the overgrown garden. She isn’t there either. He goes back inside and stands in the kitchen, scratching his head, then notices a half-eaten toasted sandwich resting on the table. He picks it up and finds it is still warm. Thinking his grandma might have been abducted only moments ago, John immediately calls the police. (forgive the crappy writing, this is just an example!)
Using the highlighted parts (which I’ve underlined instead because I don’t know how to highlight on this blog!), the paragraph could be changed as follows:
When John arrives at his grandma’s house it is empty, and her half eaten lunch is still warm. Terrified something bad has happened to her only moments before his arrival, John calls the police.
And if you had to cut it even further it could be changed to:
John calls the police on finding his grandma’s house empty.
Sometimes it’s easier to work this way, starting with a long synopsis and gradually breaking it down. If you end up trying this process, I’d love to hear how it goes for you – let me know!
How do you go about writing a synopsis, are there any valuable tips you’ve learned through the process?
I got to thinking recently that writing a novel is a lot like cooking, so I thought I’d create a little recipe for all those writers out there…
Preparation time: Varies, from months to years.
Serves: Potentially millions (if you’re lucky)
- One working computer, word processor, or large notepad and pen
- One committed writer
- *optional but highly recommended: truckloads of beverages and snacks
- One main plot
- A handful of sub-plots
- One to a few main characters
- Several minor characters
- At least one setting, add more to taste
- One large cup of emotion
- A splash of humour
- A teaspoon of mystery (or more depending on genre of the recipe, er… novel)
- One or two cups of cold-pressed extra virgin (or not) organic dialogue
- One or two goals
- One heaped tablespoon of motivation
- Two cups of conflict
- One cup of resolution mixed with a happy ending (depending on genre)
- A sprinkling of hooks and cliffhangers
- *optional but highly recommended: a twist of sexual tension and a dollop of romance
1. Prepare by opening a new word document or a new page on your notepad, and give it a title, eg: ‘Best Novel Ever’, or ‘I’ll Think Of A Title Later’.
2. Write the opening sentence, or the last sentence, or any words you can think of so you can officially say, “I’ve started writing my novel.”
3. Consume beverages and snacks.
4. Introduce one main character, a goal, and splash in some conflict (save the rest for later).
5. Sprinkle a hook or cliffhanger at the end of chapter one to entice further devouring of the story.
6. Add some of the other characters and sub-plots, and stir in some emotion and mystery.
7. Consume more beverages and snacks.
8. Splash in some humour and keep drizzling in the organic dialogue throughout the whole baking/writing process.
9. Combine the motivation with some more of the conflict for a spicy mixture.
10. If adding the optional ingredient of sexual tension, squeeze a little in now.
11. Continue stirring the plot and the sub-plots together so they combine well, making sure to keep topping up the emotion.
12. Consume beverages and snacks.
13. Add in the remaining conflict, sexual tension, mystery, and hooks.
14. Finish by placing the cup of resolution and happy endings on top, and decorate with a dollop of romance.
15. Bake in a closed drawer or backed-up file on your computer, and leave completely alone for at least a couple of weeks, or more if you’ve forgotten to attend to necessary tasks such as showering, cleaning, feeding the family and pets, seeing real live people, checking the mail…etc.
16. Open the file and give it a taste test. Read through it and make any obvious changes and improvements, adding more of the ingredients as needed.
17. For best results, get a trusted friend to taste test it too.
18. Make further improvements.
19. Bake it for a little longer if necessary.
20. Pull bits of it apart and throw them out. But just in case, wrap them up and store them safely away for future reference.
21. Remove the excess words and overused ingredients.
22. Repeat steps 11 and 13.
23. Add extra sweetness to the dollop of romance if required.
24. Decorate and plate-up the finished piece with all the pizazz you can find.
25. Hand it over to a professional, who’ll probably get you to start over at step 20 again.
26. Repeat steps until it tastes just right, or a deadline forces you to serve it up.
27. Consume beverages and snacks to reward yourself for all the hard work.
28. Attend to the necessary tasks that you’ve once again neglected.
29. Smile politely at people who say, “The novel was great, I read it in one day. Hurry up and write the next one!”
30. Begin at step 1 all over again.
*Note: Results may vary between people. Recipe not suitable for freezing.
Thanks for reading! And remember, all comments left on blog posts during May will go into the draw for some tasty prizes! Click on the ‘mouthwatering may’ tag below to see all may blog posts, or click on the category on the right side menu. Also, make sure you subscribe to the blog to be eligible
Many authors advise writing only one manuscript at a time, so you can completely immerse yourself in the world you’ve created and the lives of the characters. This ‘Manuscript Monogamy’ makes sense, however in reality while writing a manuscript you may be editing another, and planning a future story simultaneously.
But what about writing more than one manuscript at a time? Not writing one while planning another, but actually writing scenes in one story, and then writing scenes in another story? In other words, being an Adulterous Author (gasp!).
Are you guilty of this? And if so, is it really a sin, or is it possible that two different stories can be written simultaneously and still have a convincing plot and strong characters? Who knows, but I think it depends on the writer. If you’re the sort of writer who’s able to switch your mind easily from one story to another and stay true to the characters, then I say go for it – go ahead and cheat on manuscript number one with manuscript number two, and even (heaven forbid) manuscript number three! Just don’t tell your characters
But, if the thought of this horrifies you and you think being the monogamous type is the right way to go, then repeat after me; “I (insert name here), promise to love, honour, and obey my current manuscript, till ‘the end’ do us part.” Sure, you can jot down some simple ideas for other stories as they arise, but be warned; one thing may lead to another and you could find yourself in a compromising position at third base when you only intended to go to first. Try explaining that to the revenge-driven gun-wielding action hero you created in manuscript number one.
Anyway, what do you think? What works for you? I personally am filled to the brim with ideas I want to pursue, so it would be detrimental to my family and friends, and possibly anyone within a five kilometre radius of my house, if I didn’t at least do some work on these other ideas while writing my current manuscript. I would quite likely explode if I didn’t. Having said that, I try to work mainly on one manuscript, but allow myself to write scenes in another when the inspiration strikes. Inspiration is such a random and beautiful thing, and like the Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston movie, sometimes it’s good to ‘Just Go With It’.