Writing is a labor of love. Writers spend late nights and early mornings spilling their book characters' thoughts and lives on paper and/or screen, willing to tell their stories. Then that story reaches the hands of its readers and things begin to go wrong. They lose interest in a really good story told the wrong way. I have been editing stories for over a decade and have seen it all - the good, the bad, and the not so bad. And I've put together these 5 tips to help you tighten your prose so that your story pops. That's not to say these tips will fix major flaws in your story; they'll help you tell a better story, your editor will help you with the rest.
Describe Your Main Character in the First Two Pages (If Possible): Nothing foils the flow of a good story than questioning who the main character is ten to fifteen pages in. If at all possible, try and paint a picture of the main character in your readers' minds in the first few pages to solidify their interest. Who is he/she?
Avoid Stating the Obvious: As a writer, it is natural to write down everything you're thinking as you write, and this will happen in your first draft. However, readers don't need to know the obvious, it can actually seem insulting to their intelligence when a writer feels the need to feed the reader with the obvious. For example, He opened his eyes and looked at her. Under what other circumstance was he going to be looking at her if not with his eyes open? Another example, She lifted her hands and touched her face. Or, She slammed the door and angrily exited the room. Unless she has mental issues that cause her to slam doors when she's not angry, we can safely assume that she slammed the door because she was angry.
Where Are We? 1960 or 2000: Setting and time are very important for storytelling and at some point, your readers are going to wonder where they are if it's not easily found in the story. There are several ways to do this without actually giving the date/year. Use descriptors from that time period - it can be the mention of a major event, the name of a president, or a great invention.
Go on a Word Overkill Hunt - If a word doesn't add importance to a sentence, take it out. You can easily spot your overused words by searching through a page. A technical way to do this is to use the "find" feature in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Some words typically overused are just, very, really, that, etc. Find these and cut out as many of them as you can.
Use Strong Adjectives (if You Must Use Them) and Cut Modifiers - Where possible, try and use single worded adjectives to describe nouns and pronouns. Huge describes something or someone a lot better than very big. And ugly is more effective than not beautiful, depending on the picture you're trying to paint. The overuse of adjectives can clutter your writing. Take for instance this sentence, She sat on the freshly painted white bench, getting paint all over her beautiful, new, short green petticoat. How about, She sat on the freshly painted bench, getting paint all over her petticoat? That sounds much better, right? Hopefully, before bringing her to the park, the writer would have dressed her at home, eliminating the need to tell us about her coat in the park. An even better way to describe this soiling of her coat will be, As she sat on the freshly painted bench, she soiled her new petticoat, or She sat on the freshly painted bench, soiling her new petticoat.
Storytelling can be such a wonderful experience when writers know what they're doing. A well-told story can reach your readers in intimate ways. I've fallen in love with writers who were able to touch my conscience and awake my senses with their words. That is how you captivate your readers. And you can do this in fewer and simpler words and sentences than you think.