Friday, August 5, 2011

Fine-tuning: concrete examples

When the overall arc of a story is satisfying, and the characters and the setting all seem to belong, then the writer often turns to fine-tuning. Here are some examples of the fine-tuning I do:

made a crackling noise

made a whooshing sound

gave a smile

I heard her fingernails clicking against the tabletop
her fingernails clicked against the tabletop

I wondered if he liked me
Did he like me?

These are examples of pruning out filter words, bringing us one step closer to the action. Sometimes I leave in filter words because the narrator is using distance as a defense mechanism, and that's part of my intended characterization process. But many other times, I prefer immediacy and directness. Once I had some good editors point out these weak phrases, they started jumping off the page and waving their little serif hands at me.


  1. This is exactly the kind of fine-tuning I do, too. I let myself write this kind of stuff in first drafts because hey, let's face it, when you're trying to pound out a first draft it's nice to have a word count cushion. But in editing, all this must go.

  2. Becca: It may be part of the throat-clearing of a first draft; I also find it easier to do later on.

  3. Same here--when it's the first draft, I'll leave phrases like that the way they are, but the weaker phrases are definitely removed during edits.

  4. I've thankfully gotten much better at spotting these as a write. They often still make it into the first draft, but they're much easier to catch now.

  5. Eagle and Mieke: Of course, then there are the elves who plant weak phrases into our brilliant prose when we're not looking ... ;-D