Five Steps to Active Writing
By Jacki McGuyer
You’ve worked hard and long to finish your manuscript. You’ve edited so many times, you’re positive every word is perfect. You’ve slashed all the passive phrases from the text. Now you’re ready to submit your work to agents and publishers.
WHOA, wait a minute. You may have missed the forest for the toothpicks. During the editing process, it’s easy to get hung up on story, plots, and characters, missing the passive and redundant words. Not to worry, you can search out these words with your “Find and Replace Tool.”
Find and Replace:
You will find this tool under the “EDIT” button on your word processing tool bar. After editing your manuscript, go on a SEARCH AND REPLACE MISSION. Do NOT try to eliminate every occasion these words appear, but reduce the number vigorously in order to strengthen and activate your work. You can make changes as you find them, or highlight the text to consider if you print your manuscript. Use the highlight feature. Choose a color you can’t miss.
STEP ONE: EMBEDDED PASSIVE WORDS
IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE, and all verbs including BE, BEING or BEEN
You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your manuscript once you find and eliminate embedded PASSIVE words—or replace them with ACTIVE words and phrases.
STEP TWO: REDUNDENT DIRECTION
BACK, FRONT, UP, DOWN, ABOVE, BELOW
To make actions clear to your reader, it’s easy to use a redundant word already implied in the action.
Mark stepped “back” onto the patio.
Mark stepped “up” onto the patio.
Mark stepped “down” onto the patio.
Mark stepped onto the patio.
If you’ve done your job setting the scene, the reader understands where the patio is and knows if the character is repeating an action.
STEP THREE: UNCLEAR WORDS
VERY, REALLY, GOOD, A LOT/ALOT, STILL, SOME, ALL, MOST, MANY, MORE, EHOUGH, SEVERAL, FEWEST, FEWER, FEW
Replace “unclear” words with “specific” words. Find a substitute. Ask yourself what picture the word brings to mind, can you see “very”? How much is “a lot”? Replace with “tangible” words and phrases—or delete them.
STEP FOUR: MOVE FORWARD WORDS
Find and replace words when used to move the story forward. It’s easy to find yourself using them to made unnecessary transitions from action to action.
Frankie bolted upright, damp with sweat, “then” he reached over to the bedside table and switched on the lamp.
“After” Frankie bolted upright, damp with sweat, he reached over to the bedside table and switched on the lamp.
Frankie bolted upright, damp with sweat. He reached over to the bedside table and switched on the lamp.
Eliminating “Move Forward Words” makes the action vivid—adds drama. Move forward words weaken the scene.
STEP FIVE: LITTER WORDS
THE, HAD, AT, JUST, AS, THAT, WHILE
We litter our work while writing almost automatically. You’ll not want to eliminate every use of these words. Read the sentence without the word to see if eliminating works.
Scooter raked the leaves that had fallen to the ground to one side.
Scooter raked the leaves to the ground to one side.
Scooter raked the fallen leaves aside.
Bring an active voice to your manuscript by getting rid of the litter. As the above example indicates, your SEARCH AND REPLACE MISSION may require a more specific verb, changing a sentence, or even an entire paragraph. No one said writing is easy. This process is worth your time.
As you go through the Five Steps to Active Writing, watch for repeated words within a sentence or paragraph. Pay attention to the first words in your sentences—ensuring you haven’t used the same word repeatedly in consecutive sentences.
She, She, She—The The The. Where you’ve begun a sentence with AND or BUT, strike it out—eliminate—delete.
These five steps point out errors even seasoned professional make. Agents and publishers no longer have the time or resources for line-by-line editing of every manuscript landing on their desk. They can spot an armature author after reading one or two pages.
Activating your manuscript by following the Five Steps to Active Writing, along with the edit you do on plot, character and “show-don’t-tell”, could make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
**Jacqueline McGuyer- Christian Fiction Author
With every book she writes, it is Jacqueline’s ambition to grow and be faithful to her readers. She aspires to give them an entertaining story to dazzle and provide honest and thoughtful information to keep them coming back for more. Above all, she is a Christian and her faith guides her pen.