1) Cut unnecessary words. Look for adverbs (“just,” “very,” “really,” and other words ending in “ly”) and adjectives. Use strong verbs and nouns that can stand alone. Verbs do not need to be propped up with phrases or words such as “start to,” “tried to,” “began/began to,” “beginning to,” “seemed to,” “continued to,” “needed to,” “decided to,” “could,” “would,” “did,” “must,” etc. Run a search for these and delete as many as possible.
2) Search for and eliminate intruders. These are phrases like “she saw,” “she watched,” “he remembered,” “he felt,” “he touched,” etc. Write as if you are in the character’s mind. She isn’t seeing herself seeing something. That sounds a bit confusing, but when you use those expressions, you are putting a filter between your character and the reader. Readers are not experiencing the heroine’s actions themselves, rather the author is telling/describing it for them. Any time you’re tempted to write a sense word—“he heard,” “she sensed,” “she touched”—see if you can show us what she sensed, heard, or touched. Make us feel it or hear it. Drop us in the middle of the scene as if we were looking out of the character’s eyes. It’s the difference between.
She touched the mat of curls on his chest.
Her fingers tangled in the mat of curls on his chest.
She felt his muscled chest press against her back as he leaned over.
His muscled chest pressed against her back as he leaned over.
The second ones are much more sensual and immediate. They drop us into the action. Which ones make your pulse race faster? Which ones make you feel like you’re part of the action? Can you see the difference eliminating filters/intruders makes?
3) Look for passive voice—“was” and “were” are good indicators. Replace these with active verbs to make your writing sparkle. Also look at each sentence to see who is doing the acting. Is the subject taking charge or is he/she being acted upon?
PASSIVE: The book was read by Jane.
ACTIVE: Jane read the book.
PASSIVE: Those books can be found in the library.
ACTIVE: You can find those books in the library.
4) Show rather than tell. Telling is describing, whereas showing is action that demonstrates what is going on in the character’s life. If you’re not sure what this means, here’s one example:
Telling: Sally was angry with Brad.
Showing: Sally glared at Brad, then turned and stomped off.
The second sentence not only lets us know that she’s angry; it shows how she expressed her anger. I’m sure you can see that the second one is much stronger and more interesting.
Change any places where you have described a character’s thoughts or deeds instead of showing her in action. See the following websites for more info:
http://allieboniface.blogspot.com/2007/04/writers-wednesday-showing-vs-telling.html http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/showing.htm http://www.rooftopsessions.com/OpeningHook.htm
(mostly about openings, but check out her two examples of openings to see the difference between showing and telling)
5) Dialogue needs to be crisp and to the point. It must also move the story along and/or develop your characters. Eliminate the usual conversational pleasantries (hello, how are you, good-bye), filler (you know, um, you see, I guess, well), and repetitions. Concentrate on the essential information you need to convey, and make your dialogue sound better than real life. Never use dialogue to tell readers things the characters already know.
6) The main reason people read romance is to be transported to another time, place, situation. Imagining themselves in the heroine’s place, they live the story through her. In order to create that illusion, details can be extremely important. Sensory details flesh out a fully realized world. What is she smelling? Hearing? Feeling? Tasting? You don’t want to bog the story down with description, but a few well-chosen details add spice and make the setting feel real. (But do it without adding “intruders.” See # 2.)
7) Avoid using “It was” or “There” to begin sentences; those are weak constructions. Often just cutting them takes care of the problem. Usually the rest of the sentence can stand on its own. If not, reword it.
8) NNTT (No Need to Tell)—Many writers use body language, dialogue, or an action that shows how a character is feeling or reacting, then they follow it up with an explanation. Stick with the action, and let readers figure out how a character is feeling. If you’ve portrayed the emotion through action or dialogue, trust that your readers will understand.
9) When Lynn turned the key, the ignition clicked a few times, but the engine refused to turn over. She pounded on the steering wheel and swore, furious that her car wouldn’t start.
10) As readers, we realize she’s furious—we see her temper fit. We also know her car didn’t start, so telling us that is unnecessary.
11) Try www.autocrit.com—an online tool that checks for many of these problems.
Kat O'Shea was an editor for The Wild Rose Press. She edited on Champagne, Climbing, and the English Tea Rose lines. This article was reprinted with her permission.