How to cut the clutter for page-turning prose

Are you an indie author struggling to begin self editing your manuscript? Do you want to create a page-turning book for your readers but aren’t sure how? This blog will explain how to cut the clutter in your manuscript to create page-turning prose!

What is writing clutter?

Writing clutter is anything extraneous that may slow down your reader, for example:

  • Unnecessary words
  • Over-long sentences
  • Over-long paragraphs
  • Frequent blocks of dense text
  • Words used in the wrong order

Why should you cut writing clutter?

Cutting clutter makes writing more accessible and enjoyable for readers. Your book may be intended for a specific or general age range or audience, but that age range or audience will still contain many different reading abilities. Therefore, making your writing as clear and succinct as possible will ensure that as many readers as possible will be able to access, understand and enjoy it.

how to cut the clutter for page-turning prose

How to cut writing clutter

There are a few ways to cut clutter in your writing, and they are:

Remove unnecessary adverbs

Adverbs describe verbs (doing/action words). More often than not, they can be removed without affecting the meaning of the sentence at all. Unnecessary adverbs include: very, kindly, slowly, slightly, quickly, angrily, anxiously, usually, definitely, occasionally etc. A comprehensive list of adverbs can be found here.

Examples:

“No!” he said, punching the wall angrily.

In this sentence, the anger is already implied by the dialogue, the exclamation mark and the action, so ‘angrily’ is unnecessary.

She nodded slowly, refusing to meet his eyes.

In this sentence, ‘refusing to meet his eyes’ tells the reader much more than the adverb does, so ‘slowly’ could be removed.

Alongside adverbs, other unnecessary words include:

  • so
  • just
  • that
  • even
  • then
  • really

Challenge yourself to check through your manuscript for these words (perhaps using the ‘find’ function) and remove them if you can. Your writing will be less cluttered, and therefore more readable, if you do.

Place subject before object

In a sentence, the subject is the person (or animal etc.) doing something, and the object is the thing having something done to it. In a story, placing the subject before the object makes the writing more readable, as well as tightening up the prose.

Example:

The man was attacked by the killer, who plunged the needle into his neck. (object-subject)

The killer attacked the man, plunging the needle into his neck. (subject-object)

The subject-object sentence contains three less words than the object-subject sentence although it conveys the same information. Do this throughout your manuscript and the result is a more readable book!

Split over-long sentences

Although complex sentences have their place in all writing, over-long sentences can often slow the pace too much or confuse the reader (especially if the punctuation isn’t used correctly). Therefore, splitting over-long sentences into two (or more) shorter sentences gives the reader breathing space.

Example:

It was a cold, dark morning and the mist hung in the air like cobwebs, creating an eerie opaqueness to the dimly lit street.

It was a cold, dark morning. The mist hung in the air like cobwebs, creating an eerie opaqueness to the dimly lit street.

Removing the ‘and’ and creating two shorter sentences instantly makes this description more readable.

Create shorter paragraphs

Shorter paragraphs create more white space on the published page, which makes the page easier on the reader’s eye. As an indie author, you can make stylistic choices with your paragraphs, if you choose to. As general guidance, ‘TiPToP‘ is helpful for paragraphing: create a new paragraph with every change of time (Ti), place (P), topic (To) or person (P).

Using dialogue to break up paragraphs is effective too. This again creates more white space on the page, making the text less dense and therefore much easier to read.

Benefits of cutting writing clutter

Cutting writing clutter at the self editing stage has many benefits for both you as a writer and your potential readers. The benefits include:

  • Wider reader accessibility.
  • Improved grammar and sentence structure throughout.
  • A better chance of a page-turning novel that readers will whizz through.
  • A less dense interior containing more white space, which is easier and more enjoyable to read.
  • A cleaner, more concise draft which could save you money if your professional editor charges per 1,000 words.

If you have found ‘How to cut the clutter for page-turning prose’ useful, check out these other writing related posts for indie authors:

How to write a compelling tagline for a self published book

7 common mistakes to avoid in your manuscript

How to punctuate character speech and dialogue in fiction

5 easy ways to make your first novel better

How to self edit your novel: clichés and common phrases

How to self edit your novel: spelling, punctuation and grammar

A-Z of Storytelling Techniques for Authors

A-Z of Storytelling Techniques for Authors is available to buy or borrow now! Get it here.

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