Behold! National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us. As you get ready to write or revise your magnum opus, your friends at Caffeinated Press—presently embroiled in final line editing, so it’s top of mind—offer a few construction suggestions for you as you prepare for the Eleventh Month Frenzy.
- Watch your main verbs. In the flow of the moment, using variations of has or was gets you through the word war. But those verbs are notoriously weak; they require prepositional phrases or other constructions to add the heft that the verb alone ought to supply. For example, “Sally was sure she had turned off the lights but she double-checked anyway” is tighter as “Sally verified that she turned off the lights.”
- Think carefully about agency. People do things, but concepts don’t. For example, “The weight of the decision pressed hard upon him, unsettling his stomach” is problematic because weight isn’t a tangible thing that actually presses on stomachs. In small doses, this kind of literary device is fine, but in large doses it appears amateurish. The sentence is better as “His stomach soured as he contemplated his choices”—because the person is now the subject of the sentence, rather than the concept of weight. Or, “Excitement washed over her mind as she thought about her lottery winnings,” which is much better as “Winning the lottery excited her.”
- Said is your friend. You need not consult a thesaurus; if 80 percent of your speech tags (or more!) rely on said, you’re fine. (And you are using speech tags correctly, right? You do know that simply appending speech to some random sentence isn’t correct style, right?)
- Punctuation goes inside the quotes. Unless, of course, you’re writing computer code.
Good luck this November!