Part 2 of an editing series
Editing my manuscript has been a long process, mostly because I keep teaching myself things as I go along. Herewith, a cheap way for you to learn from my expensive lessons.
1. Specificity Outperforms Vagueness
Specific words trigger your mind while vague words don’t. Want evidence? It’s all around you. Go from vague (sports) to specific (basketball), and you’ll instantly see the difference. Joe loves sports versus Joe loves basketball. The second sentence puts a clearer picture in your mind because basketball is specific.
Try another sentence where you’ll even feel the difference. The waitress served our food versus The waitress served us fried eggs and bacon with buttered toast. Which scene can you visualize better? Same with your reader. This is a sliver off the “show, don’t tell” rule for writers.
2. Concrete Usually Tops Abstract
Slightly different from Rule #1 above, but equally profound. A concrete word is a word we’re familiar with through the senses. Think of laptop or bacon. They’re easily definable, and everyone defines them pretty much the same. An abstract word is a word we’re familiar with through the intellect. Think of justice or happy. It’s much tougher to picture one of these words instantly in your mind, right? Moreover, we all have a different picture of what they look like.
Try it yourself and see. The cute cat versus the orange-and-white striped tabby. Or, the kid walked away happy versus the kid walked away with an ear-to-ear smile. One gives you a concrete picture. The other doesn’t.
3. Syntax secrets
Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create a sentence. But there are some syntax tricks based on the way people read.
Example: If you want to drive home a point about something, it is best to put that something at the end of a sentence. When people make a full stop reading, they tend to remember that word or phrase that came before the stop. Putting something at the end of a paragraph is even stronger. And, of course, if you end your chapter with a cliff-hanger, you’re assured that ending will resonate with your reader.
So, what if you want to hide something? What if you’re writing a mystery, where it’s only right to give your reader all the clues necessary, but you don’t want to make it obvious? Then it stands to reason you can do the exact opposite. Put a clue in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of your chapter. Your reader will begrudgingly thank you for the clever move!
The hard part, of course, is finding all this in your manuscript and fixing it during the editing process. But you’re good. You’ll get it. Couple more editing lessons around the corner, and then we’ll get back to the good stuff. Unless you love editing like I do, in which case this is the good stuff!