The first day of spring is less than two weeks away. Here in the east, the birds are calling and bulbs are pushing out of the wet ground. Our thoughts turn to the chores of spring cleaning. Time to shake out the cobwebs, clear away the dust and scrub out the dark corners…of your manuscript.
The physical spaces of our lives – our houses and apartments – aren’t the only ones that get cluttered and dirty during the long winter months when the dark sets in early and the windows are shut. The spaces of our minds suffer in the same way. Possibly it is the mind, rather than the home, that really needs airing. So why not take a fresh look at what you have been working on all winter, your writing.
Below is a list of some word clutter that can and should be swept away. The result will be a narrative that is cleaner, clearer and more on-point. Try eliminating some of these and then take a deep breath. See if the air in your study isn’t fresher.
Sentences that begin with “there.” Almost anytime you consider starting a sentence with the word “there”, don’t. “There” just separates the reader from the action and adds useless words to the sentence:
There were birds singing in the trees. Birds sang in the trees.
There are pansies blooming in the window boxes. Pansies bloom in the window boxes.
He, she or they knew. If you are clear about the point of view from which you are writing, it should be obvious what the character knows because he or she is thinking it.
Greg proceeded with caution. He knew the chicken house was somewhere to his right in the darkness, and he was sure that if he bumped into it, the chickens would wake up and squawk.
Greg proceeded with caution. The chicken house was somewhere to his right in the darkness; if he bumped into it, the chickens would wake up and squawk.
“Finally” and “suddenly” are words you should almost always avoid. “Finally,” because anywhere in the book except the end is not final. And “suddenly” because the time it takes to read those three syllables undercuts the notion of urgency. There is also something melodramatic (!) about “suddenly”.
Suddenly, the motor died.
The motor died.
“Then” is often an unnecessary word because in a sequence of events what comes next is implicitly “ then.”
Turning on the water tap, then putting her hand under the water, and then letting the water wash over her bruised thumb, Charlotte swore off dusting.
Turning on the water tap, putting her hand under the water, and letting the warmth wash over her bruised thumb, Charlotte swore off dusting.
Characters should never begin anything. They should just do whatever it is. If they only ever begin doing things in books, what would ever be accomplished?
Dorothy began clearing away the winter debris in her garden.
Dorothy cleared away the winter debris in her garden.
Doors opening and closing. Unless your door is metaphoric and closing it closes off opportunity or the past or something grandiose like that, you probably don’t need to mention it, along with similar details.
Aaron went into his office, closed the door behind him and sat behind his desk. He brought up on his computer screen the manuscript he was going to edit.
Aaron sat down at his desk to edit the manuscript.