As anyone who follows my reviews will know, I have been a big fan of Rayne’s ‘writer’s craft’ books. I’ve read quite a few and I haven’t found one yet that I haven’t found useful and easy to read. The latter point is important to me as I am a natural speed reader. I often skim – particularly if I’m reading a book with unnecessary exposition or scenes which don’t add anything. In many ways, this is the perfect thing for me – almost ironically. It’s an advice book specifically written around cutting words out of your fiction.
Why would you want to do that? Well, sometimes we writers pop things in to their text that aren’t really necessary – words and phrases that don’t add anything, elements which slow down the pace. I am as guilty as the next person, particularly as a novice, so I have to try hard to not do so. Adverb addiction is a tough one to crack I can tell you. You may now be asking, but if you know if it’s a problem, why don’t you just stop using them? It is easier said than done. Like proof reading, it’s easy to spot areas of improvement in other’s work than your own. If you’ve ever written anything – a report, a book, a letter – you have proofed it and are convinced you’ve captured every typo; someone else will read it and they find two more.
So, how does ‘The Word-Loss Diet’ help?
Firstly, it’s a short book which is good. How ridiculous would it be to have a book on self editing that took a week to read! I read this in an afternoon, although there are a lot of practical exercises you can do which would naturally take more time. In fact, this would be good a good read if you already have a work in progress – whether you are doing your first edit or reviewing the previous day’s work, you can pick out the exercises and apply them.
The book is split into thirteen chapters, each dealing with a separate element of “wordiness”. The final one focuses on tightening up your plot – I often think that overall wordiness and flowery language can often be used as “fillers” – if you get your structure and objectives right at the outset you are less likely to need them.
What I really love about this particular book is that it gives you granular detail on how to find the nuisance words and phrases in your manuscript. Not everyone may be proficient with word and it’s idiosyncrasies; I am but even I found a useful way to use the ‘ find and replace’ advanced functions which I haven’t used before. No more costly subscriptions for word add-ins to find adverbs and overused phrases!
It’s difficult to single out a particular chapter as being of the most value. That said, there are a couple of stand outs for me.
The first would be chapter 6 – “Cut the Said, She Said”. If you’re a writer who has worked with an editor, you will know that they hate dialogue tags. They hate adverbs in dialogue tags even more. If in doubt and you have to, use “he said” or “she said”, they may tell you. Rayne gives some great tips here on how to avoid this by structuring your dialogue to make it clear who is speaking.
The following chapter on “Snappy Dialogue” was also really helpful. When you are writing stories that are character driven, you want to make your characters real. You want to bring them to life and write their dialogue how they would speak. The flip side of this is that will often slow things down, bogging the reader down in glue sentences. There are some good tips and examples on how to write real dialogue within the constraints of a well paced story.
Last but not least, I return to our enemy – adverbs. In chapter 10 we get some great tips on how to find them in our manuscripts and how to get rid of them.
What I always find refreshing with Rayne’s books is that they are combination of three things. One, theory – she explains in plain English why you should consider a different way, she doesn’t just bash you over the head with a set of rules and expect you to automatically “get it”. Two, she provides clear examples of great text, versus okay text. Three, there are always plenty or practical tips or exercises for you to practice with. My experience of reading writer’s craft books is that they rarely have all three.
So, ‘The Word Loss Diet’ gets a big thumbs up and five stars from me.