Tricia Wooldridge is a professional author and editor. She recently did a webinar with us entitled “Self-Editing Techniques for Young Writers.” Here are our five main takeaways from the webinar! To learn about these topics in greater depth and detail, the full webinar can be viewed here.
Wooldridge’s number one tip for editing is: “Read your work out loud, then read it backward, sentence by sentence.” She offers five self-editing tricks to help young writers create leaner, more compelling narrative.
Trick One: Show, Don’t Tell.
“Telling depends on verbs that are not ‘active’.” To ascertain whether you’re telling or showing, ask yourself: Could you mime or mimic the action? She WAS, or she HAS are verbs that cannot be mimicked. This is telling. However, she RAN or she HELPED are actions that can be mimicked. This is showing.
Telling: Her eyes were blue but her hair was red. Showing: Ginny tossed her fiery hair and glared ice-blue hatred at him.
Tricia’s Trick: Writing in passive tense (or telling instead of showing) often uses variations of “To be” and “To have.” Wooldridge recommends using the “Find” tool in your document to flag all of these forms of verbs, and then ask yourself if they can be replaced with active, non-passive verbs.
Trick Two: Tense and Timeliness
Tense gives us “an idea when everything is happening.” Ex: simple present tense (I go to the store) vs. the most common: simple past tense (I went to the store.) Progressive tense (is doing, was doing) is used when an action is ongoing.
Tricia’s Trick: When reading out loud, look for shifts in narrative voice to catch any tense/timeliness incongruences. To limit use of progressive tense, search your document for “ing + space” (ex: “ing ”) to more easily find them.
Trick Three: Adjectives and Adverbs
While editing, look to see if you’re using strong descriptors. Ex: Instead of saying “he was a smart man,” you could say, “he always won at chess.” This gives a more complex view of the man. This also applies to adverbs. “They moved quickly” can be changed to “they zoomed.” Wooldridge also notes that you may not need describing words at all, especially in fast-moving scenes, like a fight. It reads better to change “She parried artfully as he stabbed strongly, and the she moved her sword carefully while he quickly came in for another stroke” to “She parried his stab and prepared for his next thrust.”
Tricia’s Trick: Do a search for adverbs: ly[space] or for most commonly overused adjectives, such as: beautiful, fat, very, much, good, fast, slow, soft, loud, pale, evil, dark, (etc) and replace them with stronger words. She also recommends the book “The Emotional Thesaurus” for help substituting common or weak descriptors with stronger ones.
Trick Four: Filter Words
These are “words that filter the reader’s experience through a character’s experience or voice.” There are some artistic uses for it, but Wooldridge warns it should not be overused.
Ex: “She heard Nick say: blah, blah.” This shows Nick’s words being filtered through another character. To quicken the pace, the sentence can be changed to “Nick said: blah, blah.”
Tricia’s Trick: Search your document for common filter words, such as “see, hear, and feel.”
This also applies to what Tricia calls “Snark Filters.” When writing in first person, it’s possible to have a strong, snarky, opinionated character voice. Wooldridge warns this snark can be overdone.
Tricia’s Trick: Search for words like “Actually, Obviously, Of Course, Likely, However, Seriously, Like I said,” (etc.)
Trick Five: General Overuse
All writers have words or prepositions they personally overuse. These are sometimes referred to as “crutch” words: words authors use over and over, such as “eye.”
Tricia’s Trick: Find your overused words by copying and pasting your entire manuscript in word clouds at wordclouds.com. Whatever words appear the largest are the most commonly used. Then search your document for these words, and see how many can be replaced. Try doing this after your first draft, and again after your last. Wooldridge says, you want to see a broader amount of words in your word cloud. The larger your list of commonly used words, the more variety you have.
Help show more and tell less by searching for your uses of “to be” and “to have.”
Make sure you’re consistent in your verb tense by reading it aloud, reading backwards, and searching for clues of overuse of progressive tense “ing[space]” and where you may have started to use past perfect tense and dropped it by looking for “had.”
Cut down overuse of adverbs by searching for “ly[space] and searching for the listed commonly overused adjectives.
Tighten your work by getting rid of unnecessary sensory filters by searching for sensory clues opinion filters by searching for listed commonly overused words.
Check your overall repetition and overuse of words by doing a search for prepositions, discovering your crutch words with word clouds, and searching for the largest words in your clouds.
Watch the entire webinar here: https://goo.gl/1xKxMh
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