The first draft is usually when I confetti my manuscript with laughs and smiles. And the first edit is when I’ll search through each instance and either delete, look for an alternative or bestow it with the honour of being allowed to stay. Yes, I could cut out so many stages if I just applied this ruthlessness to the first draft, but what can I say – my first drafts are messy and this is my process. 🙂
I’ve made this infographic for when you want an alternative word, especially when you still want to say e.g. “she laughed” but are looking for a more expressive word.
Here’s a 2020-centric tip (and let’s hope it’ll only apply to 2020!): With us wearing masks when we’re out and about, it’s the perfect time for a little people-studying. It’s amazing how much we watch someone’s mouth when they talk to us, so it’s natural for we writers to transfer that to the page with smiles, laughs, smirks and frowns. But the necessitation for mask-wearing has meant we need to translate body language differently.
Next time you’re on the bus or in the supermarket, study people’s behaviour when you think they’re smiling or laughing (try not to be too obvious!). What do you see? What other quirks and characteristics are they exhibiting? Maybe they’re being expressive with their hands? Or their shoulders shake? Or they’re fanning away the onslaught of happy tears? Keep a bank of mannerisms in your writer’s notebook and you’ll always have it to refer to for new and imaginative action tags.
“Look” is my nemesis when it comes to editing the first draft. My characters are always ‘looking up’ or ‘looking down’ or ‘looking here’ or ‘looking there’. Most of the time, I’ll search for ‘look’ and delete the reference entirely. It’ll go on the pile of culled words and I’ll find a new action for my character. But sometimes, the action is right.
I generally go through each use of the word ‘look’, and decide whether a better word can be used. I’ll ask myself questions of the scene and the character’s motivation. For instance, there is a world of difference between, “she glanced”, “she gazed”, and “she glared”. Yet, each example gives a much fuller picture in your mind than “she looked” ever could.
It seemed only fair that I share this infographic with fellow serial lookers. It makes the third in my Synonym Series. Here are the links to the others:
This is part two of my Synonym Series! The first part talked about using ‘said’ in dialogue and offered a graphic of synonyms. You can find that here. This part talks about going places.
This is an easy one to tackle on the line edit and it’ll do wonders to liven up your Work In Progress. Do a word search for all instances of “walk” in your manuscript. Sometimes, “walk” will be just fine. Don’t try and shoehorn a more complicated phrase when a simple one works best. However, a red flag, should be when “walk” is followed by an adverb.
“She walked quickly” can become, “she raced” or, “she darted”. Both are much more succinct and dynamic examples to describe the action.
Similarly, “she walked slowly” can become, “she lumbered” or “she ambled”. You can see how it adds another dimension to your phrase: “lumbered” suggests that she has the weight of the world on her, like every step is heavy. Whereas, “ambled” is a little lighter, like she is aimless. That’s the beauty of a stronger word. It can convey so much more than “she walked slowly” ever could!
Here’s a handy little infographic of synonyms to help you on your way!
There is so much conflicting advice out there for when to use ‘said’ in dialogue. Should you use it? Shouldn’t you use it? Some people say never; others say always. It can become confusing and overwhelming. I say this, because I have been both confused and overwhelmed.
The aim of the game is to produce imaginative and flowing prose. This means you have to use all the tools at your disposal.
It is true, that ‘said’ should be used in the first instance. The thing about this little word is that is disappears. Think about this the next time you are reading dialogue. Do you really notice the ‘saids’? Your brain is most likely glossing over them, focussing on the dialogue and using them as an anchor to know who’s speaking.
So when do you use synonyms?
A great tip is to go through your manuscript, search for ‘said’ and see if there is an adverb following it. If there is, the likelihood is a synonym will be more dynamic. For example, if you’ve written, ‘she said quietly’ then, ‘she whispered’ is better effective. Or, ‘she said loudly’ becomes, ‘she shouted’.
Just to throw a spanner in the works: there is room in the writerly world for adverbs. I know that some people think they are the devil, but I love them. And when used carefully, can produce a great voice to your work. As I said earlier: use ALL the tools in your arsenal.
Here’s some synonyms to help you on your writerly way: