These smart tips from Louise Harnby on cleaning up your prose in late edits also work well when you’re looking for those last thousand or so words you need to cut. For example, every time you eliminate a dialogue tag like “said,” you generally cut at least two words. Same with cutting filters (and this is an excellent primer on what that term means). In my “Power-Cutting” posts, I’ve also noted how often the phrases “to me” or “for him” can be cut; they act a lot like Harnby’s “anatomy-based action[s].” For example:
“He offered the book to me” vs. “He offered the book” when “I” am standing right there and the obvious recipient of the book.
I found a whole short-story-full of those kinds of cuts!
I’m currently deep in edits of my “Horse Show Book,” tentatively titled Three Strides Out (more mystery and horses!!), and hope soon to be able to edit at the level Harnby’s discussing here. That’s always a great milestone.
Give your novel a sentence-level workout. Here are 6 common problems, and the solutions that will improve the flow of your fiction and make the prose pop.
Review your novel for 6 common problems. None involve major rewriting, just relatively gentle recasts that will improve your prose significantly, and make your reader’s experience more immersive.
1. Assess invasive adverbs
2. Remove redundant filter words
3. Take the spotlight off speech tags
4. Pick up dropped viewpoint
5. Trim anatomy-based action
6. Turn intention into action