Sunday, December 11, 2011

Put your book on a diet

When your book is finished and you’ve let it sit a while, it’s time for you to put it on a diet. By this I mean to ruthlessly prune unnecessary words, sentences and even entire scenes.
Quite often a scene that made sense when you wrote it has become a waste of space by the end of the story, as the character development or place it was meant to show is no longer needed, or has been described much better elsewhere.
How many times have you written phrases like, “He blinked his eyes”. “She shrugged her shoulders”.
Stand in front of the mirror. Can you blink anything other than your eyes? Can you shrug anything other than your shoulders? No. “He blinked”. “She shrugged”, says it all.
Then there are sentences like, “She visibly shook with tension”. Uh-huh. While you’re there in front of the mirror try to shake invisibly. Doesn’t work does it?
There’s a lot of common phrases like these, and using them once or twice is not a problem. But if you find them cropping up again and again it’s time to put your book on a diet and get rid of them. They’ll grate on your readers’ nerves.
Helen Woodall

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