So many elements go into making a manuscript strong. One of the top ones for me as a writer, reader, and editor is prose. Sure, prose is word flow and rhythm. It’s cadence, absolutely. It’s part of your voice. But here’s one exercise you can do the next time you’re adding words to your work-in-progress, an exercise that will have an immediate impact on your work: be intentional about word choice.

REPETITION

Don’t settle for the first word that comes to mind, as most likely it’s the most basic. Instead, take a moment to consider your other options. And never repeat the same word in the same half-page of a document. Even words like “look,” etc. Grab a thesaurus and resist the urge to settle.

PREPOSITIONS AND PREP PHRASES

Be careful to avoid overuse of prepositions and prepositional phrases as well. Rework. Even phrases like “she kissed him on the nose” can be shortened to “she kissed his nose.” Watch out for phrases like “on the chair in the corner by the door.” Rework to tighten. I keep a handy list of prepositions nearby so I can weed many of them out.

AVOID CLICHÉS

Always try to rework tired phrases. If you feel you’ve seen/heard the phrase before, don’t use it in your own work. Editors spot them and unless they’re in someone’s dialogue as a character’s manner of communicating, we don’t want to see them.

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN TO SAY

Take your time to choose words with nuances you intended. Watch out for phrases that communicate something you did not mean.

EXCITING NOUNS AND VERBS

Choose interesting verbs to avoid overuse of commonly overused terms, like “look,” “step,” “walk,” “turn.” Challenge yourself to avoid common nouns like “gaze,” “look,” etc.

Take the time to choose the right word. Your writing will shine when you do.

How about you? Do you let those words slip through and fix them during rewrites? Do you dig for the right word on the first draft? What’s the best way you’ve found to churn up stronger words?  

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