Revising? Eliminate these stylistic gremlins

A few weeks ago I wrote about grammar gremlins, but grammar is only one element in the overall revision process. Style matters, too. Here are a few tips I hope will help you in  re-visioning your story:

Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases, especially adjectives. Don’t describe things too minutely. Check your writing. Does every noun have a modifier? If so, choose only the most vivid one and cut the rest. Too many adjectives dilute your prose and call attention to themselves.  Strive for one vivid image per page. Let nouns and verbs do the heavy lifting.

Substitute abstract or imprecise language with more specific and concrete words. For example, She picked up a heavy object and hit the burglar in the face. He cried out and fell becomes stronger as She grabbed the vase and swung it aainst the burglar’s head. He yelped and sank to his knees.

Cut words of unnecessary specificity. In these common examples, the unnecessary words that should be eliminated are italicized.  He shrugged his shoulders. She squinted her eyes. He sat down on the seat. Her cry echoed back and forth across the ravine.”I-I…d-don’t know,” the child stammered with difficulty. An expression of disgust appeared on her face. “Come with me,” he whispered softly. She held the ring in her hand. The ship disappeared from sight.  It’s just too bad he thought to himself.

Eliminate overuse of the conditional or past perfect verb tense. “would” and “had” are the most common ones as in these examples: Susan would get up before dawn. She would smell bacon frying in the kitchen and the cinnamon rolls Jake would be making, and her stomach would rumble. Or: Susan had gotten up before dawn. She had smelled bacon frying in the kitchen and the cinnamon rolls Jake had made and her stomach had rumbled.Instead, introduce the conditional or past perfect tense at the beginning of the passage and then switch to simple past. Susan had gotten up before dawn. She smelled the bacon…and her stomach rumbled.

Eliminate “there were” and “there was” constructions. There were two women standing outside the bank becomes stronger as Two women stood outside the bank.

I love revision. It’s a chance to make each sentence stronger. I don’t always succeed, but I keep trying. I hope you will, too.