Now that you've finished writing your story, you can finally get to work on it! So much of the heartache of writing is just getting the ideas and events down on the page. It can be such a relief to finish that it seems scarcely possible there's anything left to do but press print. But the truth is some of the most important and rewarding work in creative writing takes place during the editing and revision stage.
It's a good idea to set your story aside for a few days (a week or more if possible) before returning to it with 'fresh eyes'. Read through your story in hard copy - you'll be amazed what you overlook on the screen. Apart from the obvious spelling and grammatical points you'll want to correct, give some thought to the flow of the narrative (i.e. the large-scale structure of the story). Does the ending seem right? Is there an alternative ending that might be more satisfying? Is the point of tension clearly evident and does it resolve in a realistic way? Does your story start in the right way? When it comes to opening sentences, Stephen King says:
"...there's one thing I'm sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this."
If you're part of a writing group, get your fellow members to read your work and give you their honest impressions. Be sure to consult a good style manual and assess your work line by line to make sure it's as honed and polished and finely balanced as possible. Strunk & White's Elements of Style is an all-time classic. Mark Tredinnick's Little Red Writing Book is also excellet.Here, in brief, are some points about style you need to bear in mind as you edit and revise:
- Avoid overuse of adjectives and adverbs. There is almost certainly nothing quite so breathtakingly and frustratingly distracting than the excessive use of beautifying, decorative and adorning modifiers which serve practically no functional purpose other than to make an otherwise exceedingly short, clear sentence into an excruciatingly and painfully long sentence. (Get the point?)
- Avoid the use of qualifiers such as very, rather, pretty and little. In most cases all of these words can be eliminated. Perhaps it seems very obvious, in a rather pedantic way, but this is pretty good advice and will help you write a little better. Basically, if a word adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence, leave it out.
- Avoid fancy words. Good writers have rich vocabularies at their disposal. But they do not choose words simply to impress. They choose the best word for the job and tend to let the nouns and verbs do most of the work. Simple and solid Anglo-Saxon words are usually best in English prose.
- Avoid cliches like the plague! It's an old saying, tried and true, but still, you can't go past the advice that your writing needs cliches and figures of speech no more than you need a hole in the head.
- Short, to the point sentences make for good prose. Ask yourself in each sentence, What exactly do I mean to say? Then say what you mean in the clearest possible terms. If a long complex sentence can be clearly divided up into two or three more readable ones, do it. As Mark Tredinnick says, "Clarity and brevity are nearly always at war. Make sure clarity wins. But do it without wasting a word."