First drafts can be messy, and that’s okay. When the muse is flowing you need to get all of the crazy down on paper before you lose it. So many times, authors can get bogged down looking for that perfect word or perfect expression and all of sudden lose the momentum of a great idea.
Write it down – worry about it later!
When you have all the words for your first draft, it’s time to go through and tidy it up. Rewriting can be daunting but it also can be fun. There are a few things you can do to instantly clean up the writing and help shape the flow of your story.
1. That and Just
It’s common for these two “filler” words to be overused in your first draft. They make sense in our head as they are regularly used in our real-life conversations. In writing fiction however, they generally don’t contribute to the story.
Do a word search on your document and read each sentence containing the words that and just. In the majority of cases the sentences will read stronger without them. Find them and if they don’t change the meaning of what’s written, delete them.
The memory that I have will last forever. OR: The memory I have will last forever.
He told me that he loved me. OR: He told me he loved me.
I really just wanted to help. OR: I really wanted to help.
She just wasn’t sure what she should do. OR: She wasn’t sure what she should do.
A contraction is a shortened word or phrase with an apostrophe to replace missing letters. It’s common in a first draft to type out the words in full giving it a more stilted or formal feel to it when reading. Adding contractions will create a more realistic and easier to read narrative.
It is a beautiful day. OR: It’s a beautiful day.
I do not know if it is the right thing to do. OR: I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.
Paul is going to the shop to grab some wine. OR: Paul’s going to the shop to grab some wine.
An easy way to find out if you need to identify or change up your contractions is to read sections of the manuscript out loud.
3. Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags are the small phrases like, “she said” or “ he asked.” They are used to show who is speaking but there’s an art to using them as they can be overused.
The simplest and easiest tags to use are the said, asked, whispered. These can help convey a tone to the dialogue, are very common and most importantly are invisible. There are a myriad of tags that are flashy alternatives to these, such as: shrieked, screamed, purred, squealed. These can all attach a tone or an emotion to your dialogue, but if overused can detract the reader from the story.
“What are you doing? Get out!” Fred shouted.
“No,” replied Darla. “I will not.”
“I want you out of my house, now!” thundered Fred.
“This is my house, too,” she declared.
Tags should be invisible and used to only let the reader know who is saying what when it is needed. It should be easy to follow along with a conversation to know who is saying what at any given time. An idea to add depth to the dialogue and create more interest is to break up the dialogue with actions. This provides texture to the scene and is also another way to show the reader who is talking at any given time.
Let’s look at the above example after removing the flashy dialogue tags and adding in some action.
“What are you doing?” Fred’s blood rose as Darla walk into the kitchen without a care in the world. “Get out.”
“No. I will not.” In complete disregard for his wishes, Darla sat and crossed her arms.
The chair scraped across the tiled floor as Fred stood, fists clenched to his side. “I want you out of my house, now.”
“This is my house, too.”
Dialogue tags can be tricky, the key is not to over think them. Less is generally more.
4. Stage Directions
Most fictional stories are written from a character’s point of view, which means the reader is experiencing the story through the character’s eyes. Keeping this in mind, there is no need for phrases like: I feel/felt, I hear/heard, I watch/watched. The reason being, the reader knows the character heard something if there is a sound described, or felt something if the feeling is described, or saw something if something is seen …
I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket. OR: The phone vibrated in my pocket.
I heard the sound of a phone ring. OR: A phone rang.
I saw her cut the grass. OR: She cut the grass.
I watched him walk away. OR: He walked away.
Thank you for reading my Ted Talk about four tips for better writing.