I tend to avoid blogging about the craft of writing. Why? First of all, I don’t consider myself qualified to give advice when I still have so much to learn. Second, there are approximately one million people already blogging about the craft of writing, and doing a far better job than I could ever hope to do. What’s my point? Well, today I’m breaking my rule. But since it’s more of a guideline than a rule, I don’t expect any serious repercussions. We shall see.
I have four total, two “polished” (they’ve been edited but will need more) manuscripts to my name now. I am no George R.R. Martin, but I have improved. Two of the most helpful tips that I can pass along are 1) when you edit, search for “was” 2) edit every first and last sentence of every chapter by itself.
My first manuscript started with a passive and omniscient voice. Searching for, and eliminating, as many “was” sentences as possible made an incredible difference. For example, let’s take the title of the post, I was writing. It is a grammatically correct and functional sentence, but not very exciting. Let’s change it to: I wrote with passion. A little better right? More descriptive, slightly more interesting. How about, Sweat beaded on my brow as my pen flew across the paper. Much better yes? This gives the reader a great mental image of the character while still conveying his or her activity. It shows them what’s happening instead of telling them. So, my advice: when you’re done writing a chapter, a short story, or a novel, do a search for “was” and then rewrite as many of those sentences as possible.
I have done this, and continue to do this. Will you find “was” sentences in my story? You bet. Will you find 2,000 occurrences of “was” in my document? Not anymore.
Editing every first and last sentence is important because, to paraphrase a quote I ready recently about chapters selling a book, the first sentence sells that chapter, the last sentence sells the next. If you take out every first sentence you might discover that your character wakes up at the beginning of every chapter, a fact you might not notice when there are five hundred words in between the opening sentences. Or you might see that your last sentence gives the reader an excuse to close the book rather than enticing them to turn the page. I am still working on this one, but if you’ve read the work of Suzanne Collins (You might have heard of her books, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) you’ll know what I mean. She is a master of ending every chapter with a hook. I am not. Read her work, don’t judge mine.
There it is, my first craft post. I feel so legitimate now.
What are your writing tips?