When writing the first draft, give your subconscious free rein. When editing, be conscious of EVERYTHING.
When you reread your novel/poem/short story, read every sentence with this question in mind:
“Why is this sentence in my story(or poem)?”
And for each word:
“Why is this word in my sentence?”
Describing a scene or a person can be a reason for a sentence to be there, but if you have two sentences which essentially only describes a person’s hair, consider if they are both necessary. If the second only repeats the first, delete it.
Unless you have some very special reason for focusing on the hair of this person. Your protagonist might have a hair obsession and stare at everybody’s hair, but if that is the case, at least make it interesting for the reader, or the text as a whole will not work.
Of course, it is a very difficult task to be conscious of everything which is why getting a writing/critique group or at least a critique-person is a great idea. An extra pair of eyes might see things which one does not see oneself.
Reading the texts of other people can also be a great exercise. It is often easier to find out what one likes and why in a text written by someone else.
Another great help is lists.
You might recall the list I wrote for “About Pictures in Writing and Writing in Pictures”
- The words or combination of words: ‘a little’, ‘almost’, ‘very’, ‘as if’
- ‘Began to’
- Too many adjectives
- Passive sentences
- Points of view
- ‘could see’, ‘could feel’, ‘could smell’
- The pace of the story
- Interposed sentences
- Very long sentences
- Repetition of small words like ‘so’, ‘and’, ‘then’
- Things that are irrelevant to the story
I’ll jump right to the last point of the list which is often one of the most difficult ones to spot.
Imagine we have a story about a Chihuahua puppy who falls in love with a Great Dane.
On the first page we are introduced to the black bird who lives in the tree in the puppy’s garden.
Once in a while during the story, we hear of how the black bird dreams of becoming a slayer of snakes.
This is not one story. It is two; One about a puppy and another about a blackbird. If the two stories do not influence each other then perhaps they would be better off as two independent stories.
There are always exceptions of course, but in general try to stay with the story you want to tell the most and tell the other stories some other time.
And always, always, always when you edit, be conscious of which story you want to tell.
So tell me, have you tried telling several stories at once? Did it work?
I wish you all good writing