If you follow these five “don’ts,” you can jump your writing out of the amateur pile into the professional. There’s a whole lot more to writing, but for both Indie and traditionally published authors, these five basics are a necessity like spring cleaning after a long winter. 

1. Don’t use “ly” or “ing” words if possible. At best, keep them to a minimum. This “rule” has held for a while now. In fact, it’s time for a backlash against it; but until that time comes, pull up your manuscript and start with the first five pages. Try to get rid of all adverbs that end in “ly” and all verbs that end in “ing.” Example: He actively fought city hall. Just take out the “actively.” He fought city hall. Your editor will say it’s stronger this way. Another example: Thinking of his Italian grandfather, he fought city hall. Take out the Thinking of his Italian grandfather. Rewrite it something like this: His Italian grandfather always said, “Never quit,” so he continued to fight city hall.

2. Get rid of the clichés. Sayings what writers or others have said over the years is…old. Try something fresh or new, or change up the cliché by referring to something specific. Example: Fighting city hall in the above examples is cliché. Try something more specific: His Italian grandfather had always said, “Never quit,” so he continued his fight for clean water in Flint, Michigan.

3. Get rid of words like: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been, would, just, as. Example: He was going to town. Change it to He went to town. Example: We were really afraid of the dog. Change it to We feared the dog. Example: He could have come from Boston. Change it to He came from Boston.

4. Get rid of weak verbs. Spend time with a Thesaurus or go online and look for synonyms of the verbs you use. Example: He ran past the parked car. Find other words to describe this, such as: dashed, darted, bolted, sprinted, flew, fled, hustled. He sprinted past the parked car.

5. Don’t head-hop. If you are writing fiction, you want to stay within one person’s point of view throughout that scene. When you change scenes, then you can change to another character’s POV, if you want. Example:

     Alexis walked down the hall from her office and forced her shoulders back. A nervous hand went to her upswept hair. Facing Luke caused more trepidation in her than the hurricane heading for Florida today. She took a long breath and entered his classroom.
     Luke’s eyes shifted, and he straightened. What brought her here today?

I made a change in this example from my book, Looking for Justice. I changed it to show an example of head-hopping. The shift between Alexis’s thoughts and Luke’s is obvious. However, this scene belongs to Alexis. It’s her POV. She cannot hear what Luke is thinking. Here is the way the scene is actually written.

     Alexis walked down the hall from her office and forced her shoulders back. A nervous hand went to her upswept hair. Facing Luke caused more trepidation in her than the hurricane heading for Florida today. She took a long breath and entered his classroom.
     Luke’s eyes shifted, and he straightened – a mirror image of her own action a minute ago. The students glanced her way. Some nodded a hello. No one said anything. She slipped to the back of the classroom and sat in an empty desk.

We stay in Alexis’s POV here. We see Luke’s reaction through her eyes. When you need to change a scene or POV (and you’re not at a place to start a new chapter) then use a divider to alert the reader. Here’s another example from Looking for Justice.

     Could she trust him? She’d opened up to another man, and it had ended in disaster. She stood up and walked to the back door.
     “Maybe later?” he asked from behind her.
     “Maybe,” she said, not meaning it at all.

***

     His gaze followed her as she hurried down the steps, putting space between them. He’d felt the tenderness when she touched him. Not something he’d noticed but once or twice before and then only with Jessica.
Here the scene moves from Alexis’s point of view to Luke’s. It’s a continuation of the same scene, but a change in POV. We know there is a change because we see the three asterisks.

Paying attention to these five areas, if you’re not doing it already, will move your writing to a higher, more professional, level. I suggest starting with the first five pages of your work in progress. Work hard to rid them of these “don’ts.” Then when you do your next rewrite, scour your manuscript for these basic “no-no’s.”

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