By Jenna Harte
1) Check that each scene has a purpose. Any scene that doesn’t add something new to drive the plot forward is not needed, and in fact, can stall your story. Although readers occasionally need reminders about past events or the motivation of characters, watch for redundant scenes that aren’t necessary and instead add these reminders into scenes that serve a purpose.
2) Reduce or eliminate weak words and thought phrases. I use the “Find” feature of my word processing program to search for weak or vague words, such as “felt,” “took,” “gave,” “very,” and “a lot,” which I work to replace with stronger words. I also search for “realize,” “heard,” and “thought,” and, in most cases, get rid of them. When writing in a specific point of view, it’s clear who’s realizing, hearing, or having the thought.
3) Fix passive sentences. Your goal is to have the subject of your sentence doing the action, as opposed to being acted on. One way to find passive sentences in your work is to search for use of the “to be” verb (i.e. is, was, etc.). For example:
The house was buried in the snow. (Passive)
The snow buried the house. (Active)
4) Reduce or eliminate adverbs. The easiest way to find adverbs is to use the “Find” feature to search “ly.” Not all adverbs end in -ly, but it’s a start. Replace adverbs with stronger verbs. For example, “She walked quietly,” would become, “She tiptoed,” or “She snuck.”
5) Delete unneeded words. “That,” “now,” and “just,” can usually be deleted. “And” and “but” at the beginning of a sentence isn’t needed in most cases, either.
6) Replace dialogue tags with action when possible. Keep readers deeper in the story by avoiding “said,” “asked,” etc., and instead, include an action to indicate who’s talking. For example:
“I’m going to the store,” Mary said as she picked up the car keys.
“I’m going to the store.” Mary picked up the car keys.
“I hate you,” Mary said angrily.
“I hate you.” Mary clenched her fists at her side.
Jenna Harte is a die-hard romantic, writing about characters that are passionate about and committed to each other, and frequently getting into trouble. She is the author of the Valentine Mysteries, the first of which, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She's also the author of the contemporary romance Southern Heat series. She's currently writing a new cozy mystery, plotting the sixth Valentine novel, and has several other fiction ideas percolating. Keep up-to-date on Jenna's books; get chocolate recipes and more at her website: http://www.jennaharte.com.