Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Adding that Novel Punch

You’ve got a great story drafted and you've put your heart into it, but when you go back to edit, it just doesn’t have the zip, the spark, the sparkle you’d hoped for. How do you perk things up – give it more oomph? Here are a few tips; things to think about when you're putting those touches on your manuscript.

For starters, the goal is to get your reader into the story. Let him or her experience the emotions your characters are experiencing first hand. Don’t distance them. 

For example, don’t say Amy was angry. Instead of leaving your reader with just a bunch of words, leaving it up to him or her to fill in the blanks, show the reader how we know Amy was truly pissed off.

Something like –

Amy stormed into the room, slammed the door behind her and clenched her fists at her sides.

or, if Amy is more the steaming angry type you might say --

Amy entered the room with stick-like movements, her jaw set, eyes blazing. She turned very slowly, crossed her arms and glared at Rich.

Think Amy might be angry? So will your reader. Just consider what you might do if you were really, really mad and show that in your scenes. Body language, sounds, let your reader have it all.

Remember when editing cut, cut, cut. All of us writers pretty much naturally over write. We’re in love with words, we can’t help it. But, come editing time, get real. Really seriously cut. It won’t make your writing worse, it’ll make it better. Here’s an example:

Instead of something like –
Amy took notice of the horses, scores of them, running over the uneven ground toward home.

Try –
The herd of horses thundered for the home corral.

If Amy is our point of view character there’s no need for her to ‘take notice”. Doesn’t hurt to cut that sentence a bit either. You may well have some better ideas of how to do it, but you get the drift.

To further tighten, shorten and add punch to your writing try skipping lead-ins like “he saw”, “she saw”, “he noticed”, “they looked at”. Instead cut right to the action.
Like this:

Instead of –
Amy watched Jack ride past on his bicycle.

Jack raced by on his bike.

You'll notice that not only did I eleiminate the 'Amy watched' but there's more action to Jack's bike riding.  Of couse he could also 'leisurely pedal' or 'cruise past' depending on the mood you're setting.

By using language that gives your story more color, adds more action your reader will be more easily captured by your story and drawn in. Once that happens, they’ll imagine what it would be like to be one character or another of your story, maybe even sucked into that wonderful fiction world where they can lose themselves for a while and they’ll love you for it.  And that's what you want, right? You want your readers to love your work so much they can't wait for the next book to come out.

Remember, a novel isn’t just a bunch of words where something happens. It’s a tale, a story, populated by interesting people (we hope) and beset by fascinating events, perhaps romance, mystery and thrills. 

Don’t keep your readers at arm’s length, separated from the action. Draw them in. Read your favorite authors and notice how often the dialog doesn’t have an identifying tag at all, or is very short like “Amy said”, or “Amy snapped”, and sparingly used.

You might grab a highlighting pen and go through a book you've liked, highlighting description, action and dialog along with taglines that appeal, then analyze why that is; how you can do it better in your own book. A great exercise for your writing ‘muscles’.


  1. "All of us writers pretty much naturally over write. We’re in love with words, we can’t help it."

    Oh my goodness, that is a mouthful, and so very true...

    Nice post, Peggy. Now I will go back over my WIP and start to remove dialogue tags... :-)

    You come mightily recommended by Jay Squires. His latest blog guided me here.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Teresa. And I so appreciate Jay's blog post pointing folks here.

    Yep, us writers tend to overwrite - but then again, that does help make the editing/cutting process a bit easier - if we can be brutal enough with ourselves.


Other Posts Of Interest:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...