Tips for Scrubbing Stories to a Sparkle

Cleaning supplies

You’re ready for your final edit to streamline, scrub and polish your story to its finest shine. What should you look for? Among other things, extraneous and misused words. What should you do? Tidy and toss! I see you cringing, but take heart and be courageous. Look at this effort as an adventure. Four suggested events are listed below to comprise an editing quadrathalon or something like that with pointers to two more. Add additional events of your own choosing. With a little imagination, you might make it to decathalon status.

Dead Would Chopping

Have you used some variation of the phrase, “we would” as in “we would go on a picnic when” or “we would often have roast chicken …”? That’s a variation of passive voice. Streamlining these phrases to “we went on a picnic when …” or “we often had roast chicken …” perks up your story right away.

Only use would in a conditional situation, as in “If he gave me $50, I would do that” or “I would do that for $50.” If there is no uncertainty, you have dead would. Chop it. Burn it to heat up your story.

Which Hunting

Most English speaking people are massively confused about the difference between that and which and have no clue how to use them appropriately. They’re confused about whether to write “Songs which are sung by Willie Nelson give me goosebumps” or “Songs that are sung by Willie Nelson give me goosebumps.”

Here’s a simple tip that will clear up most of the confusion, at least if the term “phrase” doesn’t roll your eyeballs to the back of your head:

Use that in your sentence. Then eliminate that and words connected with it. Does it make the same sense to say “Songs give me goosebumps”? No. Songs in general do not give me goosebumps. Only those sung by Willie Nelson. This sentence calls for that.

If your phrase is expendable, use which and set the phrase off by commas. If it changes the meaning, use that

In case you’re one of the many who think which sounds more “right,” hunt down all whiches and switch them to that when that’s the write thing to do.

Another misuse of which designates place, as in “the party at which I met my friend. Oh, my goodness. What  tongue tangler. Switch at which to where, as in “the party where I met my friend.”

Weed Pulling

Some perfectly respectable words can be weeds when they don’t add value to your sentence. For example, the, that, then, your, an, somewhat, very, of the, quite, and more are words that do not add value to your sentence and slow your story down. It’s not wrong to leave these words in, but do an experiment. take one story and look at each word to see if the story is changed or enlivened by removing it. You’ll be surprised.

Words like very, quite and somewhat are lazy, nonspecific qualifiers that do not add value. Very pretty doesn’t tell anything more than prettier than pretty, but what does pretty mean? Our language overflows with specific adjectives that let readers know (I just revised from your reader) what very pretty means to you. In fact, you may want a simile or phrase to show what pretty means and how it affects you.

Clutter Clearing

Phrases like “she thought to herself” are redundant word clutter. Who else would she think to? “He stood up, then sat down.” I suppose you could stand down, then sit up, but that’s not what comes to a reader’s mind. “She nodded her head.” It’s worth mentioning if she nodded her fist. “Choose from among five choices.” “I don’t like opera, but nevertheless, I’ll go anyway.” In this sentence, nevertheless and anyway say the same thing. Pick one, toss the other.

As you pursue this adventure, look for additional ways to sharpen and focus your story. Refine descriptions, Check for extraneous details that don’t show up on weed word lists.

This is not an exhaustive list. For example, I’ve said nothing about using active verbs. but I wrote about them recently in this post. I also wrote earlier about the challenge of avoiding Ditching Dummy Subjects. Between this list and those two additional posts, you’ll be well on your way to a sparkling story that mesmerizes readers.

Which events are your favorites? Which are the toughest?


Michelle Monet said...

thankyou ! FIrst time here. very helpful!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for stopping by Michelle and saying howdy. I hope you'll return often.

kathleen pooler said...

Excellent editing tips, Sharon. I will share!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Kathy.

Amy said...

Great tips, Sharon! And some of my pet peeves and my worst traps.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Amy. We all fall into these traps at some point, especially in early drafts.

Abbe said...

Easy metaphors for writers. I appreciate the reminders. This was shared by a fellow writer. I intend to pass it along.
Thanks Abbe

Sharon Lippincott said...

My pleasure Abbe. Glad you enjoyed the metaphors. They're fun to think up, and I wish I could remember who to thank for the Which Hunting one.

Peter B. Giblett said...

To me the toughest places to apply the cutting knife are those phrases where you toiled to use clever words, only to perhaps end up being a little too smart.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Great observation Peter. I'm in that club of people who love clever phrases and have been called out more than once for overkill.