In the last post, I discussed the need to be an accomplished self-editor. This is vital if you want to make anything of yourself as a writer. Sure, there are editors who get paid to that very thing, but you, I’m afraid, are not rich enough yet to afford their services. If you are, then you don’t need to be reading this blog. Go spend your millions is some country where the natives will wait on your every need.
For the rest of us,we need to cultivate a discriminating eye for weak and bad writing that we ourselves are guilty of perpetrating. Don’t worry. We all are sinners here. Those who write perfect prose may cast the first well crafted literary stone.
So, how does one learn to spot bad writing if you look at your work and say, “It’s perfect!” Well, the first step is to look for clues, those red herrings that distract your muse into writing something like, “The whole room went silent when she entered, her long blonde hair hanging in curls to her shoulders, her blue eyes quickly darting around the room, and her ruby lips parted in an infinite sigh.” Bleh.
One of the first things to look for are those pesky adjectives and adverbs. For you grammar-tards out there, these are words that modify other words. In the case of adjectives, they modify words such as nouns. Adverbs modify words such as verbs. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule when it comes to writing, but it is better to err on the side of caution when using these guys, as they’ll stab you in the eye when you’re not looking (but if its in the eye, wouldn’t you have to be looking?).
Take this sentence: “The man quickly dashed across the field, his wavy hair blowing in the stiff breeze.” Other than this being atrocious writing, the adverbs and adjectives make it even worse. First, “quickly” is completely unnecessary as “dashed” means to travel in a great hurry, so the fact that he is moving quickly is already implied by the more direct verb. Then, “wavy” and “stiff” have to be looked at. One might argue that it is important to know that the breeze was “stiff,” but I say it is not only unnecessary, but cliche. As for wavy, or any other descriptors of your characters attributes, they are completely useless unless they contribute in some way to character or plot development. Who cares if his hair is wavy? Unless he is Fabio, in which case, I really don’t care.
For the most part, unless you have an overly flowery style of writing, your best bet is to pare it down to the bare essentials. Stick to strong verbs and specific nouns to get your point across. Otherwise, you’ll be left with writing that is weak and detracts from your work.