Sunday, November 8, 2020

Making Writing More Readable

Each writer has their own style and each character has their own voice. However, you (usually) want your writing to be read easily. A reader can  get frustrated if they have to go over a sentence or paragraph a couple of times to get the gist of it. Though if you want a character to be misunderstood, then you're golden. 

I have a mental checklist as I edit. I'm not talking about a read-through as you continue to write a story. These suggestions are for what I call polish editing.  

  • Watch for what a grade-school teacher called 'helper verbs' – especially any form of the verb to be. Was plus a gerund can usually be replaced by past tense. I was walking becomes I walked. Some authors believe that using gerunds makes an action seem more immediate. It can -- unless you do it all the time.
  • Use precise verbs. Words such as walk and look are often overused. Do a word search if you're editing online or use a highlighter if reading on paper.
  • Break up paragraphs—especially so that each character's dialogue is in a new one. A long paragraph can take up a full ebook page.
  • Avoid overly long sentences. If you use 'and' and 'but' a lot, consider shortening some sentences. Varying sentence length can be a good way to vary characters' speech patterns, so long-winded or clipped sentences, when used purposefully, can be useful. 
  • Avoid using similar names or having a lot of towns or characters whose names start with the same first letter. This especially helps when a book has numerous characters or there are many pages between mentioning a locale or name.
  • Avoid passive voice! The subject of a sentence should usually be the person performing the action. Instead of, "Those words were spoken by me," the phrase, "I said," is more direct.
If it feels as if polish editing inhibits a character's voice or makes your writing sound more like nonfiction, your approach may be too rigid. If you really don't get this, ask an editor to go over a few pages of your work and offer suggestions geared toward readability.

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