One of the easiest ways to self-edit is to begin with effective writing. While you are writing the second and third drafts, you need to concentrate on the principles I will discuss in this blog.
Currently, I’m editing the short stories that are coming in for the latest Anthology – 2021 Indie Authors’ Short Story Anthology – due out on July 4, 2021.
Most of these stories are written by somewhat seasoned writers who know how to tell a story and most of these elements are present in their writing. However, it is rare to find ALL of these elements in the short stories that most of us write.
How do you write clearly and effectively? In his book, Style: The Art of Writing Well, (Cassell), F.L. Lucas offered the following basic principles to “shorten that painful process” of learning how to write better.
It is bad manners to waste [the reader’s] time. Therefore, brevity first, then, clarity.
It is bad manners to give [readers] needless trouble. Therefore clarity… . And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.
The social purpose of language is communication—to inform, misinform, or otherwise influence our fellows… . Communication [is] more difficult than we may think. We are all serving life sentences of solitary confinement within our bodies; like prisoners, we have, as it were, to tap in awkward code to our fellow men in their neighboring cells… .
In some modern literature there has appeared a tendency to replace communication by a private maundering to oneself which shall inspire one’s audience to maunder privately to themselves—rather as if the author handed round a box of drugged cigarettes.
Just as the art of war largely consists of deploying the strongest forces at the most important points, so the art of writing depends a good deal on putting the words in the most important places… .
An editor once told me to choose ‘radiant’ words. It took me a long time to come to understanding what she meant. Not only is it important to choose the right words, but it is important to put these significant words in the right order – the reader needs to understand exactly what you mean.
Each word in a sentence needs to build to the climax. The importance of the last word cannot be emphasized enough – it is the last thing you leave your reader to understand.
It is difficult to ALWAYS be honest in your writing, but it is an essential element of good writing. Think of it as a challenge to reveal your true self – AND remember that research allows you to tell an informed story. You cannot fool all of your readers if you don’t understand or know what you are talking about in your stories.
Conversely, most style is not honest enough. Easy to say, but hard to practice. A writer may take to long words, as young men to beards—to impress. But long words, like long beards, are often the badge of charlatans. Or a writer may cultivate the obscure, to seem profound. But even carefully muddied puddles are soon fathomed. Or he may cultivate eccentricity, to seem original.
But truly original people do not have to think about being original—they can no more help it than they can help breathing. They do not need to dye their hair green.
6. Passion and Control
I think this principle is one that is so essential – but it isn’t easy to learn. The eternal paradoxes of both life and literature are that without passion little gets done; yet, without control of that passion, its effects are largely ill or null.
Most authors grew up as readers. It is essential that one learns to write by reading good books, as one learns to talk by hearing good talkers. An author doesn’t read runs into the trap of stale writing. READ to gain new ideas, observe the use of good grammar, and the construction of scenes.
Every author should possess not only with a pen but also a blue (or red,) pencil. We are all victim to falling in love with our own words – we don’t want to cut a single thing. Let’s face it: everything on the page isn’t important OR fits into these basic principles.