Friday, July 9, 2010

On a Clear Day: Editing for Clarity and Publication

Welcome to a four-part series on editing your work for clarity and publication. There's nothing like clear communication to get a point across. Even writers of literary fiction need to know what they want to say and how best to say it, how to obscure and reveal. For clarity in revelation, we'll describe, diagnose and provide fixes for four common problems that keep writers from publication: clichés, wordiness, muddiness and disorder.

Today we start with clichés.

Problem: Two common clichés types are word choice and plot choice. Clichéd word choices are common because they're easy to write and understand. But to write with style and keep the reader's interest, clichés aren't recommended, except sometimes in dialogue to convey character. Plot clichés, where nothing original happens, are deadly.

Diagnosis: You know a clichéd phrase because you know a cliché. They're easy to spot, especially if you've stepped away from the work before editing (always recommended). You know a clichéd plot choice when a scene or story is predictable. No one wants readers to come away from a piece thinking, "I knew that would happen." Or, worse, "I could have written better."

Cure: To fix a clichéd word choice, ask yourself what you want to convey. For a clichéd plot choice, for example starting a story with someone waking up, conduct a what-if scenario for characters and plot. For characters, consider a possible flaw or secret. For plot, raise the stakes and increase the conflict. This will enhance the characters, too.

To see whether you've written a cliché, visit Cliché Site. To write with originality, visit Writing Forward, considered one of Writers Digest's 101 best websites for writers.

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