When it comes to revising your story, whether that’s a short story or a novel, you could spend tons of time trying to check every little thing. From grammar to sentence length, word repetitions and clichés, it can overwhelm a writer.
So with that in mind, I want to share with you my Top 5 Revising Tips that have the most impact on improving your story. This is exactly what I do when I revise my own novels and stories.
1. Use Action Verbs
When I’m drafting I story, I don’t pay much attention to word choice or grammar: I just want to get the story out of my head and on the paper. Then, when I revise, I look for those pedestrian verbs and replace them with better action verbs. Here are some examples:
Boring Verb: Walk
Action Verb: limped, crawled, sprinted, shuffled, scuttled, marched…
Boring Verb: Look
Action Verb: glimpse, glare, stare, peek, glance, cast, behold
2. Use Active Voice instead of Passive
The tip off that you’re in passive voice mode is that you use the “to be” verb in front of “ing” verbs. It’s boring for the reader. This may seem like a subtle difference, but your readers’ brains pick up on such things. Here are some examples.
Passive: He was going to the store.
Active: He ran to the store.
Passive: The starship was firing all weapons.
Active: The starship fired all weapons.
3. Misuse of “ing” verbs – simultaneity
The real culprit behind gerunds and misuse of “ing” verbs is your grade 5 teacher who encouraged you to do this because it was “good writing”. Bollocks. Now we have to fix the bad habit.
Here’s an example: Walking down the hall, he touched her cheek.
This is a problem of simultaneity. You cannot be touching her cheek and walking down the hall at the same time unless you were Stretch Armstrong or a contortionist. What the writer meant to say here is:
After walking down the hall, he touched her cheek.
The simple fix is to put the word “after” in front of the ing gerund, or else rewrite the sentence altogether.
4. More nasty “ing” verbs – the misplaced modifier
I see this all the time. I mean, a lot! So let’s get this fixed up too (again, your grade 5 teacher is responsible).
Example: Watching the sun set, the air was cool on my face.
Reading the above sentence makes my eye twitch because the noun “air” is being modified by the verb “watching”. Air cannot watch, even it tries really hard. But a person can watch, so let’s fix this up by having the person do the watching.
Watching the sun set, I felt the cool air on my face.
5. Be mindful of “to be” at the beginning of sentences.
When you write “The night was humid”, you’re telling the reader instead of showing her that the night was humid. So if you want to bring your story to life in the reader’s mind, you need to reduce the “it was” and the “he/she was” sentences. Whenever you see the “to be” verb at the beginning of a sentence, you know you’re in telling mode, so change some of those into showing mode.
Example: (Telling) The night was humid.
(Showing): The town sweat under a warm, moist blanket of night air.
A note here: sometimes we use the “to be” verb for dramatic effect, like “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” So you don’t have to change every single sentence with a “to be” verb in it. Just be mindful of when showing the reader would be more effective.
If you do these 5 simple revision tips, you’re writing will improve a ton.