I recently ran into myself at an online critique site. A weird experience, yes, but informative. A friend asked me for a critique of her writing. I hope she wasn’t emotionally shattered after what I gave her, but it showed me in stark detail how much I have learned in two short years with the Snippeters.
It also put me in mind of an article I recently read on LDSPublisher, written by author and editor (and home-schooling Mommy and headless chicken) Tristi Pinkston. The article, “Before You Send Your Manuscript Out to Readers (or Publishers)” goes through four steps that will make your manuscript more readable from the beginning. I wish I’d read this article two years ago. Or ten. Or Twenty. It would have saved me a lot of time and headache.
I had finished two novels and started three more before my first writing group made me aware of a little something called “passive voice”. Tristi’s rule #1: Do a search for the word “was”. Not only does this little word add unnecessary verbiage, it also puts distance between the subject of the sentence, and the action: “Herbert was running from the knife-wielding madman” vs. “Herbert ran from the knife-wielding madman”. Or, kicking it up a notch, “Herbert fled through the darkness, the panting of his breath echoing the steps of the madman at his back…” But I digress. Just having fun with excess verbiage. A tell-tale sign of passive construction: “was ____-ing”. Was saying=said. Was running=ran.
Tristi’s second rule: Search for the word “that”: Until I read the article, I didn’t know that I could overuse the word:
“He remembered little but her eyes, golden and cat-like, thinking that she had somehow looked on his soul and found it pleasing.”
Rule three: Check your punctuation. Sometimes when you remove a word or a phrase, the punctuation gets deleted with it.
And fourth: “Take out fully ¾ of your adverbs.” Seriously, do a search for “ly”. You’ll be surprised how polka-dotted your manuscript appears. Find other words or other ways to say what you want to say. Beware of “He/She said ____-ly”. “He said shyly” could become “…He said, scuffing his toe in the dust like an embarrassed boy…” Or, “She said angrily” becomes, “…She shrieked, white with fury…”
And finally, a rule of my own: Don’t feel that you must follow any rule 100%. Adverbs can be a savory dash of salt to your writing, and you can’t write without using “that” and “was”, but use them in moderation. Learn to refrain and rephrase.
Oh, and my personal favorite: “Never think you know it all.” There is always more to learn.
You can find Tristi Pinkston’s article at
By Ava Mylne