Clean Writing (A Diet for your Book)

Posted on Aug 3, 2015 by   18 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

by Kerri Nelsonclose up of a fork with centimeter

Over the past year, I’ve been learning about and attempting to practice Clean Eating.  It is all about eating real foods versus packaged foods.  Keeping it clean with healthy fruits, vegetables and lean meats.  Sometimes I do well and sometimes not.  After all, I’m only human and there are times when chocolate beckons me out of my best intentions.

But it got me to thinking about how this should apply to your writing as well.  Clean Writing and by that I also mean “lean writing”.  Put your words on a diet.  (Just when you thought you could escape counting calories.)

Most of us indulge in overeating from time to time.  But when we “over write” it can slow down our masterpieces and cause our pacing to grind to a halt.  And this is where we lose readers. And this is why we need to write lean.

I, for one, am totally guilty of this.  Over explaining things or not making good decisions when it comes to word choices.  It happens to all of us. Particularly on a first draft.  And that’s okay.  After you finish that draft, then you can start your salad diet.

I love making a salad out of my manuscript (great for fiber, by the way).  Ha!

Of course, I’m not the final chef when it comes to my own manuscript.  But when I look at another author’s work, I can clean and crisp that sucker like a salad spinner on steroids.  And that is why I’m a good editor–OF OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK.

This is a key point here, you always need someone else to read and edit your work.  Case in point, I recently judged a nationally acclaimed self-published contest.  And, I cannot tell you the number of entries I read that had not been introduced to a professional editor’s eyes.  The two had never even crossed paths.  How do I know this?

Oh, you’ll know.  Because it was not just full of typos–it was full of repetitive phrasing, passive storytelling, independent body parts, and my absolute favorite…wait for it…EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’M SHOUTING!!!!!  IN DISBELIEF!!!  IN ANGER!!!!  IN INCREDULITY!!!

Have you seen these in books?  Once you start looking for them, they are everywhere and almost all of them are absolutely unnecessary.  If the character is “shouting” then we don’t really need to see the (!) also, do we?  And don’t we, as humans, know that if someone is speaking in disbelief, in anger, etc…  Shouldn’t the words we speak and the mannerisms we portray in our writing indicate the tone?

If not, then they should.  Drop the (!) people!  Seriously!

But again…you absolutely have to have an editorial eye to help you catch these things.  Especially if you are going to go the indie publishing route.  Don’t put that book out there for sale without a professional editor.

And these are just some of the reasons why you need to put your manuscript on a diet.  Whether you get a professional friend, an avid reader/reviewer, a critique partner, a spouse (well schooled with a proofreader’s brain), or better yet…a hired editor–you need to be sure that your manuscript is chopped into a beautiful salad of color, substance, and a healthy dose of pure fiction perfection.

Here are just some of the things to watch for when making sure your manuscript remains healthy:

  1. Repetitive phrasing (this includes giving your characters the same mannerisms over and over again–he shrugged, he nodded, she sighed, and repetitive dialogue tags like he murmured or she whispered).  No one shrugs that much, people.
  2. Passive storytelling (he felt, I felt, she felt, etc…) Just show me that he felt sick because his stomach roiled with the burn of acid.
  3. Independent Body Parts (his hand moved down her leg)  Creepy!  How did that hand get down there?
  4. Punctuation Problems (see my rant above!!!!)
  5. POV shifts (no head hopping and as few different POV choices as possible) Use scene breaks or chapter breaks when you shift.
  6. Verb tenses (watch this–they are very distracting)
  7. Unnecessary dialogue tags. (Here’s one of my dislikes:  I really need a cup of coffee, he thought.) You don’t need the “he thought” here.
  8. Long sections of dialogue with no tags. (Hate it when I can’t figure out who is talking and I have to go back and try to work it out.)
  9. Poor end of chapter hooks. (I absolutely have to want to turn the page.  Life is too short and there are more books than anyone could ever read in two lifetimes.  Make me want to read more.)
  10. Long passages of narration with no dialogue.  (Some of this is okay, but you’ll know that you are over-explaining or over-describing things when you go on for paragraphs with no dialogue or forward moving action.)

Keep it clean and healthy and you’ll feel better.  Trust me.

Speaking of which, is it time for a snack yet?

–Kerri Nelson

Author, Editor, Salad Chopping Expert  


Author Kerri NelsonMore About the Author
Kerri Nelson survived a fifteen year career in the legal field and then took her passion for crime solving to the page. But her journey to become a mystery author took a decade long detour into the world of romance where she penned twenty two novels and novellas in various sub-genres.
Born and raised a true southern belle, Kerri holds many useful secrets: how to bake a killer peach cobbler; how to charm suspects with proper batting of the eyelashes; and how to turn your parasol into a handy weapon.
Kerri is an active member of both Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers and as a mentor to other authors, Kerri has successfully developed her popular Book Factory Method and assisted dozens of authors achieve publication via pitches crafted in her Pitchworthy class.
She also edits professionally through her freelance editorial service, Deep Cover Edits and as a staff editor for two small presses.  Her latest writing adventure is the new #1 Bestselling Cozy Mystery series “The Working Stiff Mysteries” now available wherever books are sold.

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18 Responses to "Clean Writing (A Diet for your Book)"

  1. Comment by Nancy Lee Badger
    August 5, 2015 8:24 pm

    What a great theme for an article to help your fellow writers. Thanks for stopping by and sharing tips.

    • Comment by Kerri Nelson
      August 6, 2015 12:14 pm

      Thanks for hosting me, Nancy! I enjoyed it.

  2. Comment by JC Page
    August 5, 2015 10:00 pm

    Thank you for the advice, Kerri! Loved your approach. My current manuscript should be on a diet:)

    • Comment by Kerri Nelson
      August 6, 2015 12:14 pm


      I think most manuscripts could shed a few pounds. 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

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