After organizing critique groups in Raleigh twice per month for several years, we developed an eye for picking out cliches, dangling modifiers, adverbs, and other traits of weak writing. I have picked three simple tips out of the many things that catch a critiquing writer’s attention. If you are writing independently, participating with a critique group, or ready to send your manuscript out to agents, run your completed work through these steps and try to employ self-editing techniques in your future writing to make it stronger.
- Hook it. I’m starting with the hook because it is, well, first. Your first line needs to grab the reader’s attention immediately. In about 50% of the critiques I have done, one of my recommendations is to cut the first few paragraphs and/or relocate a strong line from another page to the first line on page one. You should be able to discern the quality of your hook yourself, but ask for the gut reaction of a read-through by a fresh pair of eyes.
- Quickly find the adverbs. Find the adverbs as fast as an Olympic runner after chugging two venti caramel macchiatos laced with steroids. Adverbs are opportunities. They are also a sign of weak writing. Do Ctrl+F and find ‘ly’ in your word processing software. Highlight each of your adverbs and re-write the sentence by using your creative license to create a unique description. These are perfect places to employ metaphors where you can express your own voice. See the first two lines of this tip as an example.
- Find and replace “filter words” as often as possible. Filter words (realize, wonder, think) are typically used around cliches. Employ your vocabulary and skills of description to write without these crutches. You can read more about filter words here.
I don’t limit the practice of these methods in my fiction and memoir writing; I use them in my poetry as well. Removing adverbs is especially important in poetry because your reader has a condensed piece and every word needs to have the strongest purpose possible.
I’ve been working my way through my fall reading list (yes, it is winter) and, when it comes to descriptive metaphors, I find diamond after diamond in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I will leave you with an example:
I slid into the self-service elevator and pushed the button for my floor. The doors folded shut like a noiseless accordion.