The Words You Choose: Four Writing Tips

Your book starts on page one.

If nothing happens until page three, four or five, cut those first pages out! I know how attached you can get to your first pages, but sometimes if you cut out the first few pages, what is called the “throat clearing,” it can often read much stronger, make more sense, create a sense of immediacy that is sometimes lacking. Don’t start with all that explaining; jump right into your story. We writers just get so used to those first pages the way they are because they’ve probably been hanging around so long. They may not really be all that good, just familiar. Although you may feel sad, sometimes those pages are just destined for the trash.

Make every word count.

When you read your  manuscript to yourself, try to look at Every. Single. Word. I know it can be pretty difficult.  But ask yourself if the words you’ve chosen are the best ones for telling your story. Can you say what you’re trying to say in a simpler or more straightforward way? Or should you stretch it out, spend some more time with an idea? Maybe you should use a word that you don’t normally use? Or try to cut out the extraneous words. Really look for the individual words that will capture exactly what you are intending to convey. Don’t be lazy now.

He said. She said.

He whispered sadly; she loudly declared, I exclaimed. When writing dialogue, it usually works much better to just write it without expounding on how it comes out.  Just put in a simple, ‘he said,’ or ‘she said.’ You want your readers to concentrate on the dialogue, to hear what your characters are saying. So show rather than tell how your characters are speaking. It is less distracting for your readers and they can focus more on what’s being said.

And remember: Too many adjectives are too many adjectives. Nuff said.

What is one piece of writing advice you’d like to share with other writers?

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “The Words You Choose: Four Writing Tips

  1. Sarah

    Great blog — lots of good stuff here!

    There’s lovely writing with subtle metaphors, and showy writing that says, “Hey, look at how clever the writer is!” I have to remind myself to remain invisible.

    And repetition of words…I’ve already been guilty of that on this blog, different post. If I see the same word popping up again and again in my ms, I run a “find” search and start making better choices.

  2. When I write either a poem or story I have a mindset of a designated carver at the Thanksgiving dinner. I always get the joints severed that will make it easier to serve up the main course. Yes you do often feel like a bloody butcher and many times I agonize over the stuff I threw away and then I remember one of my best teachers saying “Say the most you can say: with the least amount of words” She was right and if I could do that with chocolate cake I’d be thin!!Ha Molly Yellin

  3. Yes to all the above. Like Ruth, I’m a big fan of taking breaks from too much self-editing. I try to stay away from finished (Ha. finished-that’s a joke) work until I can approach it with some fresh perspective. But sometimes it’s impossible, like trying to stay away from that pint of ice cream in the freezer, so darn tempting to go in there and dig, even when you’ve had your fair share.

  4. If you find yourself consistently skimming over the same parts of your manuscript, don’t shrug it off as familiarity. It probably means those bugger spots need to be killed. Or at least strangled until they agree to help move your story forward.

  5. vano

    These lessons speak to me. I can see that I have a problem just jumping right into it. It’s not even that I feel attached to what I say or have a problem letting go (I wrote a sub-chapter called Letting Go), I just don’t know how to get right to what I want to say without giving the reader a background of information. Apparently, this is something I need to work on. Thank you, this is helpful.

  6. When you think it’s done, put it away for a while and write something else, so you can clear your head (think palate cleanser). Then return to it and read it aloud. (Is that one tip or two?) Oh, and don’t confuse tips for rules.

  7. Great tips. I think remember who you are writing for is very important. It has to sound genuine. Not talking down to your reader.

  8. Thanks.
    I’ve been advised to write simply before. To me that sounded like a cop out but as I do more writing, it is making sense. Confusion is not a good thing!

  9. Great tips. Knowing when to start your story is one of the most important things (and consequently one of the biggest challenges) for new writers. I think it was Stephen King who said that new writers consistently try to start their stories to early by 10%. In other words, if you cut the first 10% of the story, you’ll come roughly to where the story should start. Obviously not an exact science, but a good thing to keep in mind.

  10. It is so pertinent that you put this post because today I sliced 90% of my first chapter from my manuscript, and as painful as it was the story is SO much better now. When people complain that agents only want the first five pages and “nothing good happens there” that’s definitely a sign to start chopping away!

    My writing advice is just to get fresh eyes on a manuscript, sometimes you look at something so long you stop really seeing it and that’s why critique partners are so important.

  11. Oh ho ho, you’ve caught all of my bad habits in four simple steps >.> I managed to get #1 and 2 down mostly. I’m still working hard on #3 and 4…