Once you’ve written a short story or novel, it’s tempting to start sending it out right away. Of course, writers with sense know that you need to edit and polish any work before you consider sending it away.
Once you have edited, dealt with any structural issue or plot holes, and otherwise refined the story, there’s still the matter of technique, or style as Strunk and White would call it.
It takes a lifetime to really master writing technique, if anyone can actually do it, but there are a few simple changes you can make to instantly level up your prose!
1) “Omit Needless Words”
Brevity and clarity are things every writer should aspire to. Words are precious; say what you need to as efficiently as possible by never repeating yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to make all sentences short. Just make sure that every word progresses the story. Here are some examples of words and phrases that are “needless”:
With regard to
In the event that
In a hasty manner
The reason why is
These can be replaced, in order, by:
There will be times when you want to affect an archaic and formal writing style; when this is the case, you could consider reversing this process for a stiffer, less flowing style.
2) Beware The Plague Of Adverbs
Stephen King stated that adverbs are much like Dandelion; if you have just one or two in your garden they can look pretty, but when you let them run amuck they lose their charm.
This is the best explanation I’ve seen as to why you should avoid using adverbs. Notice I say avoid, not stop.
One or two well placed adjectives can add suspense, feeling, and flair to the right moments of your story. Too many shows a lack of confidence; you must be confident that the reader can understand your intent without them. If you’re not, something is wrong.
Adverbs tend to be words that end in -ly, e.g. firmly, happily, angrily, hauntingly. They modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, and they are superfluous. If your sentence can’t stand without an adverb it’s a bad sentence. Start by removing them all, read through your piece, and add them in again if you feel it’s necessary.
When you do use adverbs, however, make sure you use appropriate and efficient ones. For example, tiredly is a trash-fire of a word that adds nothing to the world which wearily doesn’t do better. Think before using an adverb.
3) Don’t Qualify
Remove qualifying words and statements from your writing – be bold!
Qualifiers, much like adverbs, modify meaning. In this case the meaning of a full statement or sentence. They don’t add new meaning, however, but dilute the original statement.
Tyrion Lannister could have been said to be the best man in his family.
Not only is that a sentence full of needless words, it’s full of qualifiers. “could have been said to be” here means, ‘some people thought that, others didn’t, and I’m not sharing my opinion.
Tyrion Lannister was the best man in his family.
Tyrion Lannister was the worst of them.
Both of these sentences are more effective than the first because they are bold, they are clear, and they are no longer than they need to be.
If you want to stand out, keep your prose lean and professional; you’ll notice a difference in no time.
If you want a more in-depth guide to an efficient writing style consider Strunk and Whites The Elements of Style. This is a seminal text and should be on every writers bedside table!