Wednesday, July 31, 2013

7 Tips for Polishing Your Story

I finally finished reading Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for the first time! I highly recommend this book, which was recommended to me by several people as a must-read for writers, with the caveat that the original copyright date is 1965. Since I am in the revising and editing stages of a manuscript, I thought I would summarize Swain’s tips for polishing a story (pp. 294-297).

1) clarity: make sure every sentence, phrase, pronoun clearly communicates to the reader. Make sure you don’t assume the reader knows everything you know.

2) clutter: avoid echo words, adverbs, lengthy descriptions, etc.

3) consistency: don’t contradict yourself. This is where a program like Scrivener or some type of organization system can help the writer avoid changing a character’s physical characteristics inadvertently, or having a dead person suddenly reappear. One of my favorite best-selling authors changes an antagonist’s eye color from gray to green in the middle of the book. Not a huge deal, but that eye color turns out to be important to a sub-plot!

4) sequence: Swain is a stickler for action happening in order. State what happens first, don’t change the sequential order of stimulus and reaction.

5) flow:  If the reader notices your bad writing technique, whether it is a lack of sentence variety or an incorrect choice of a homonym, you risk losing them.

6) impact: or timing. Rephrase and reword, experiment until you find the best way to make your statements come across.

7) idiosyncrasy: know yours, search for them, and get rid of bad habits. This can be anything from poor grammar choices to echo words. The “find” function in Word can help you hone in on your particular foibles.

These seven tips are by no means exhaustive, but provide a helpful list once you have that first draft written and your major revisions out of the way. What else would you add to Swain’s list?


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