This is one in a series of posts entitled Publishing 101: Draft to Book in 30 days. To learn more about this challenge, visit the Publishing 101 page, where all links regarding this topic will be listed as they become available.
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During the current edit of Fowl Summer Nights, I hunted for passive text and redundant words. It took seven hours to complete. The exercise forced me to write better because I couldn’t use these words as crutches. They’re easy and come to mind quickly, but they often don’t paint a clear picture.
Passive text is comparable to words lying around, taking a holiday or grabbing a nap. They’re there, but they’re not doing anything impressive.
The dragon boy was in the woods looking for some shoes. The shoes were green with golden buckles. The boy began to walk and thought about how very sad he was that he couldn’t even find his favourite shoes. Well he was starting to worry that he might not ever find them. If he just knew where to look to find his shoes and maybe some other things he’d be happy again.
Not exactly animated is it? I might have written like this a few years ago, but over the past decade I’ve created a Target List of Passive Text and Redundant Words. One of my exclusive edits targets these words and eliminates every expendable one.
Here’s that paragraph written without those lazy words.
The dragon boy searched the woods for his green shoes with golden buckles. As the boy walked, he thought about how horrible he felt about losing his favourite shoes. He worried he might not find them. If he knew where to look, he might find his shoes, his hat and his magic wand, and he’d be happy again.
I don’t read the story during this edit. I instead use the Find feature in MS Word and search for each word individually. Singling out words using this method produces better results because the focus is on repairing that particular sentence, not reading every sentence in the story.
The list of words I red-flagged during this editing session
- Were: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: They were shouting at the building. to They shouted at the building.
- Was: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: The ball was flung into the air. to The boy flung the ball into the air.
- Some: Too general: Some fairies flew into the sky. to A dozen fairies flew into the sky.
- Been: Passive voice: Try to change it to an active voice: Although distance had been put between them, it provided Delanie no relief from the feverish temperature. to Although they now stood apart, the short distance provided Delanie no relief from the feverish temperature.
- That: Unnecessary word 80% of the time: You should have seen the look on his face when I told him how sweet it was that he had sent you flowers. to You should have seen the look on his face when I told him how sweet it was he had sent you flowers.
- Began: Unless you are going to finish it, don’t begin it: I began walking to the door, opened it and left. to I walked to the door, opened it and left.
- Started: Same as began: They started to eat their supper while music played in the background. to They ate their supper while music played in the background.
- Very: Unnecessary: I was very cold. to I was frozen. I was very happy. to I was happy.
- Even: Not needed in many cases: The apples were even higher on the tree than expected. to The apples were higher on the tree than expected.
- Just: Just because it’s mostly not needed: I just went home and sat on the chesterfield. to I went home and sat on the chesterfield.
- Thing: Too general, and in most cases identifying the object improves the story: I grabbed the things on the table and skipped out the door. to I grabbed the dead frog and holey sock on the table and skipped out the door.
- Went: The last resort verb to be used if no better one can be found: Sarah craved chocolate so went to the store. to Sarah craved chocolate so biked to the store.
This is my list of lazy words. Yours might be a bit different. You may be a frequent ‘up’, ‘all’ or ‘actually’ user, so make your own list and perform a search for these words in every manuscript during your editing process. You’ll find you’ll be more conscious of using these words once they’ve been on the list for a while, and when you write the first draft, you’ll automatically weed many of them out.
During this passive and redundant word search, I also look for words/phrases that have tripped me up in the past. For example, I’ll check to see if past (adjective: He looked past the car. / noun: He looked into the past.) and passed (the verb: He passed the car.) are used correctly.
This edit also double-checks to ensure I’ve been consistent with my spelling. For example, did I use leant or leaned, spilt or spilled and dreamt or dreamed? Regardless of which spelling you choose, make sure it’s the same for the entire manuscript.
This completes this step in the Draft to Book in 30 Days challenge.
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