I Was Writing…and Other Boring Sentences.

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?

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14 Responses to I Was Writing…and Other Boring Sentences.

  1. Denise Falvo says:

    You hit upon two very important points– expunging the passive voice, and the need for a hook. Well done! Next we expunge the Tom Swifties, -ly’s, gerunds, and check for the notorious sound-alikes (e.g.: further, farther; then, than; affect, effect; etc.) It never ends, does it? We labor so hard over creating all those words, and then we have to go back and take half of them out. :P

    • Nicole says:

      Excellent points Denise, and you brought up another of my bad habits (I won’t say which one), so I went back and edited :) It NEVER ends, but I feel great satisfaction every time the MS gets better.

  2. Sarah L Fox says:

    Really good advice, Nicole! Those are things I really need to work on myself. I know I use “was” way too much. I let myself do it in the first draft so I can just let the story come out but I’m determined to get better at editing out passive voice. And the first and last sentence idea is great… I’m going to try that with my next round of editing. Thanks! :)

    • Nicole says:

      I agree about the first draft Sarah, anything goes as long as the story is flowing. Doing this type of edit has heightened my awareness during the rough draft writing as well. Maybe someday I’ll only have to do five full edits instead of, oh, twenty :)

  3. Donna says:

    Fascinating details about the craft of writing! Who knew? (Sound alike words?)

  4. Doug Palmer says:

    I look for and cut anything that diminishes anything. “Slightly,” “rather,” “a bit,” “a little,” “somewhat” and similar words make the writing seem tentative: “She smiled slightly as she looked over his somewhat muscular body, rather excited to see that he looked a bit like Apollo himself” vs. “She smiled as she looked over his muscular body, excited to see that he looked like Apollo himself.” I also cut “began,” as in “she began to wiggle her hips” becoming “she wiggled her hips.” Stronger, more vivid.

    The hardest thing for me is to find and delete repeated use of words, like using “identical” in two successive sentences in my most recent, “I thought this story was perfect!” writing. But now I have to go back and look for “was” as well!

    • Nicole says:

      Great points Doug, and thank you for reading and commenting! Your example with the two sentences is a perfect illustration of the need to cut those filler words!

  5. Scott Hutchinson says:

    Nicole,

    After reading this I believe you are very qualified to blog about the craft of writing. Lots of info with good examples. There may be thousands of blogs out there on the same subject, but they are not YOUR blogs. On the subject of cutting out the excess, I studied genuine Haiku writing for a spell, learning to say more with fewer . Thanks once again for the good work !

    • Nicole says:

      Aw, thanks Scott. How interesting that you studied Haiku! I love to read them but have a hard time writing them, maybe that’s why I like writing novels, I get to go on and on and on…:) Thanks for reading!

  6. Nicole, this is fantastic. Thank you for sharing–it makes so much sense. What I like about this post is that it focuses on two points which can make a world of a difference in someone’s writing, and it doesn’t overwhelm me with a slew of rules.

    Love it.

    • Nicole says:

      Thanks Rashad! I know there are so many tips out there that it can be overwhelming. Honestly, I think a fantastic story can cover a multitude of sins, but these tips might help get that fantastic story past the gatekeepers and into reader’s hands! I’m glad you found it helpful.

  7. becadroit says:

    I always look for and remove the word ‘that’. I scan the start of every paragraph to ensure they don’t start with the same word.

    • Nicole says:

      These are great tips! Easy to do and I have no doubt they make a world of difference in the finished product. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

I would love to hear from you!