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Creative Editing Techniques: Removing Authorial Voice

In the old days of literary fiction, the voice of the author was always present. When you read Dickens or Austen, you can feel the presence of those writers in the work. Commercial fiction doesn’t work like that these days. Pick up any Stephen King or Angie Thomas work, and you’ll find yourselves sitting on the shoulder of the main character, deeply involved in their world, with no sign of an outside narrator present. It’s what many agents are looking for nowadays in our fast-paced world.

There are many ways to get your readers closer to your characters, for example through strong physical sensations, good description, and authentic dialogue. But right now we’re going to examine a grammatical technique that you can pick up quickly in your editing sessions which will speed up your writing and remove the authorial voice from your work in a heartbeat.

Here’s how it works. Below, I’ve compiled a list of related words that should not be in your writing. These useless verbs make sentences longer, add authorial narration, and create too much distance between the reader and the character. Underneath each deadly word, you’ll find an example of how to remove it and rework it into a much more effective sentence, leaping with ease over the distance trap.

Felt (see also: sensed, perceived)

You, as the author, don’t need to tell us how characters feel. Show us instead, by describing their actions and reactions to their physical sensations.

Before: Lori felt cold.

After: Lori shivered. 

Realized (see also: gathered, learned, thought)

The realization should be a sudden, impactful moment. Telling us that a character is about to realize something destroys that impact totally.

Before: There was a knock at the door. Tim realized that something was wrong.

After: There was a knock at Tim’s door. He tensed. Something was wrong.

Saw (see also: heard, tasted, smelled)

If you’re telling your story from the narrator’s perspective, then we know that what you’re describing is what they’re seeing. We don’t need to be told that they are seeing it all the time. It stops us from looking through their eyes and getting the full experience of the moment.

Before: Maria saw the vast expanse of the mountains before her.

After: The vast expanse of the mountains lay before Maria.

As you read through your work, keep a list of these deadly words by your side to help you spot potential areas for improvement. Conversely, you might also want to leave the words in, just now and then, if you’re deliberately trying to create distance. This could be useful if the character is losing consciousness, in a daydream, or perhaps even drugged. The crucial thing to remember with any of these elements is that you want to be in control of it and be aware that you’re using it (or not using it) for a specific purpose. That’s what inspires confidence in your narration and encourages readers to engage and stick with it. Experiment with the different effects and see what happens.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer K.C. Finn