Once you’ve perfected your plot and polished up your prose, there’s a quick way to add an extra layer of shine to your novel: Find and Replace.
The “Find and Replace” feature (sometimes called “Search and Replace”) is an easy way to get rid of bad writing habits that you might not notice when reading straight through your novel.
Here are some things to search for and eliminate from your book:
Began & Started
Find: Begin, begins, began, beginning, start, starts, started, starting
Replace these words with active verbs. We don’t need to know that the character started doing something, we just need to know that they’re doing it. “Start” and “began” make the action feel less active so consequently, the reader is less engaged.
Example: He started to run.
Change to: He ran.
Find: ly (this can be a bit tedious, but if you have a love affair with adverbs it will be well worth the time.)
Replace words ending in “ly” (AKA adverbs) with stronger verbs or cut them out entirely. Adverbs weaken the action rather than strengthen it, and they are often a sign of lazy writing.
Example: He quickly ran across the park.
Change to: He darted across the park.
Verbs Ending in “ing”
Find: ing (again, this can be pretty tedious, but it’s worth it.)
Replace verbs ending in “ing” with verbs ending in “ed” whenever it is proceeded by “was,” “were,” or “is.” This sort of “ing” verb makes the action less active and if you use it a lot, it can also raise your word count.
Sometimes, however, this sentence structure makes sense if an ongoing action is being described, but think critically about whether it makes a difference if the action was ongoing or immediate. If it doesn’t matter, go with “ed,” as in the example below.
Example: I turned and Mary was glaring at me.
Change to: I turned and Mary glared.
Find: when, then, suddenly, immediately, always, often, already, finally
Replace these time-based adverbs with stronger descriptions that show the suddenness, frequency, etc., or eliminate them entirely. I wrote a post about time-based adverbs here. But here’s the gist: more words take longer to read and make the action feel less immediate, not more immediate.
Example: I immediately ran through the door.
Change to: I ran through the door.
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