Now that I’m pondering a new revision of my YA novel inspired by some helpful feedback, I’m gathering advice from a variety of sources on how to bring more energy and action into my story. I came across some editing tips from Bill Henderson, a creative fiction instructor who coaches online via his site WriteaBetterNovel.net, that might prove to all of us who are working hard to add more punch and brio to our prose:
Replace words that tell with words that show: In fiction writing, the goal is not to inform but to dramatize. When we’re writing first drafts and pushing to keep our story moving forward, we often “inform” readers about what’s happened: in short, we tell or summarize. During revisions, one of our first key jobs is flag those places where’ we’ve TOLD instead of SHOWN readers something. The next step is to amplify those moments using language that makes the reader see and feel what we’ve described and understand the emotional significance of what’s happened.
Don’t interpret: Let action speak for itself. Early drafts often suffer from heavy handed description in which we as the narrator describe or speculate about what characters are feeling. This can rob readers of the satisfaction of arriving at their own conclusions. Readers of fiction want drama, not interpretation. They want to see things, hear things and feel what’s happening in their gut based on what an author shows them — and then form their own opinions about what’s happened as a result of the sensory/emotional evidence the author provides.
Replace passive verb constructions with active verbs: When we use the passive voice, we convey information about an action that took place without saying who performed it: “The table was set,” or “The boy was punished.” Since we don’t know who performed the action, the result is a sense of vagueness about it and a lack of direct impact, both of which mute action instead of energizing it. The solution: when you’re redrafting, highlight any passive constructions you find, then replace them with vivid active verbs that evoke visual images.
Get specific: If readers want information about “what” happened, they can read nonfiction accounts or the newspaper. To experience something — to FEEL what it MEANT , they go to fiction. As fiction writers, the goal isn’t to satisfy a reader’s need to know information, but to enable them to experience and understand. So as you read through a draft, replace general “informational” language with specific and meaningful images.
Revising can be rough, but these ideas should be very useful as I go through my draft with the goal of pumping up the action so I can push it to the next level. Any other revising ideas that you’ve found helpful? Write on.