Oh - and I can't stress enough how excellent this book is:
I spent hours reading through it last night and found some excellent advice on 'making your words work'. This book is going to be particularly helpful when I come to work on the second draft of my novel and I'll post a blog about the advice but, for now, here's some of the advice in brief:
- eschew verbosity (don't use long words when short ones will do, don't use rare words instead of common ones, don't use words that are unfamiliar to the majority of your readers. Use simple words but don't confuse simple with dull - use simple but interesting words - why 'walk' when you can 'stroll'. )
- remove redundant words (there's no need to say 'enormous giant' - giant is enough)
- remove wasted words (replace 'in the event of' with 'if', replace 'on the occasion of' with 'when' and 'owing to the fact that' with 'because')
- don't modify words that cannot be modified (e.g. 'very unique' or 'slightly impossible')
- replace weak words with strong words (instead of writing 'Lee was a mean woman' write 'Lee was a shrew'. Look for adverbs - they often occur because you chose a weak verb and tried to boost it. Chuck your adverbs in the bin and replace them with stronger verbs. Instead of 'Stan jumped suddenly upon the burglar' write 'Stan pounced on the burglar'
- Use the active voice rather than the passive voice where possible (e.g. replace 'the Christmas present given to Frank was an electric guitar' with 'Frank got an electric guitar for Christmas)
- Be specific (rather than write 'Joe drove a car through the desert' write 'Joe drove a Mustang through the Sahara' - it gives a much more vivid image for the reader to grab hold of)
- Show don't tell (don't write 'Sarah was impatient' write 'Sarah tapped her foot and glanced at her watch')
- Avoid cliches
- Appeal to the senses - sight, smell, sound, touch
All that advice is in the 'Style' chapter of the book. There's tons more in the other sections. Honestly I can't recommend this book enough.
Oh - and this bit of advice, right at the end, could have be written for me:
"In fact, I encourage you not to try too hard to make the first draft good. Too many writers are so critical of themselves in the first draft that they never get to the second. They sit down to write, with a fussy little editor sitting on their shoulder, and after two of three paragraphs the little editor snickers. "Oh, that's awful," he says. Or "What a stupid way of saying that. This is embarrassing." So the writer yanks the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, tosses it into a wastebasket, and starts over. Some writers never finish a story because of that little editor on their shoulder. Save your editor for the rewriting. Write the first draft without judgment. Take some risks. Put in the words that might seem ridiculous. Nobody but you has to see the first draft. It is better to rewrite bad writing than to be so inhibited in the first draft that you don't put in the good, imaginative writing you are capable of.
The way I look at it is that when you rewrite your story, article, chapter, essay, or whatever, you are sculpting the clay that you created. But when you write the first draft you are creating clay out of nothing. That, by itself, is a tough enough trick; don't burden yourself with the further requirement that it be any good. The first draft doesn't have to be good. It just has to be there."