Ambit Creative

Adele Annesi

Adele Annesi is an award-winning editor and writer for global Web content and print publications. She worked as a development editor for Scholastic Publishing, and is a fiction and nonfiction book editor, specializing in nonfiction and memoir. As a press correspondent and columnist, Adele writes for newspapers, magazines, blogs and literary journals. Her stories have appeared in The Circle, The Fairfield Review, Hotmetalpress, Miranda Literary Magazine,,The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Trillium, the Italian-American literary journal Pyramid and an anthology for Fairfield University. She won Poetic Voices of America's editor's choice award, and presents the editing and writing workshops for libraries and other venues. She is a nominated member of Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America and Who's Who in American Women. She's also working on a new novel. Visit her website at: Adele Annesi, Facebook, LinkedIn, Redroom, Twitter, and Word For Words.

On a Clear Day: Editing for Clarity and Publication

There’s nothing like clear communication to get a point across. Even literary fiction writers must know what they want to say and how best to say it, how to obscure and reveal. For clarity in revelation, we’ll explore and provide fixes for four common problems that keep writers from publication: clichés, wordiness, muddiness, and disorder.


Problem: Two common clichés types are word choice and plot choice. Clichéd word choices are common because they’re easy to write and understand. (One or two are in the beginning of this column.) 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. You know a clichéd plot choice when a scene or the story itself is predictable. No one wants to read a piece and think, “I knew that would happen,” or, worse, “I could have written it better.”

Cure: To fix a clichéd word choice, ask yourself what you want to convey. Take, for example, the phrase off the beaten track. It could mean a place not easy to reach, not well-known, or hard to find. Ask yourself which meaning, or another, you intend and revise accordingly. For example, Mepkin Abbey outside Charleston, South Carolina, could be considered off the beaten track, but it’s better represented as a “botanical retreat along the Cooper River.” 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.


Problem: Verbosity comes in variations. The words can be unnecessary, overabundant, or repetitious. Repetition can also present as recurring text or scenes that don’t add meaning or depth.

Diagnosis: One way to spot this problem is confusion, annoyance, and ultimately, avoidance. Readers will lose interest in descriptions or scenes that feel familiar, or skip them altogether. If they really get annoyed, they’ll put the book down unfinished. If your trusted critique group or writing buddy has these reactions, there’s a problem.

Cure: Cut unnecessary words, use contractions, and expand your vocabulary by reading widely and using a thesaurus to make one

word count for two or more. For sections or scenes that recur without added meaning or depth, ask yourself these questions: What is this scene or story really about—why did you create it? How can it be revised to reveal character and advance plot, preferably both at once?


Problem: Anyone who’s read a legal document has read muddiness, or lack of clarity, even if the writer was hoping for the opposite result. As the word implies, muddy writing is dull writing.

Diagnosis: Big words when smaller are better, long clauses, imprecise wording, mixed metaphors, and inaccurate similes all make for unclear prose. Readers come away confused and feeling like they need to clear their heads.

Cure: One way to cure lack of clarity is education and knowing what you want to say even if you’re still figuring out how to say it. Let’s start by defining metaphors and similes. A metaphor is a word or phrase that’s used instead of another to suggest an analogy, for example, “drowning in money.” A simile is figure of speech, often using “like,” that compares two unlike things, for example, “cheeks like roses.” The cure for wordiness works here, too.


Problem: Readers can overlook this problem in short descriptions, for example, a character experiencing spring after the seclusion of winter. Jody can go outside, feel the breeze, see the sun and smell the lilacs. The order of experience here isn’t essential, except if she closes the door, then walks outside. Unless Jody’s a ghost, she must go outside first.

Diagnosis: Even in this small example, order can improve the scene. For example: Jody opened the door and stood on the porch. The breeze carried the scent of lilacs, and the sun dappled the front lawn. Aside from more description, this phrasing works better because time and events unfold in a way that allows Jody’s experience to satisfy her and the reader’s innate sense of order.

Cure: One great cure for disorder is doing a timeline. This works well for scenes, chapters, and plots.

There’s nothing like clarity for good prose, and in this competitive writing environment, it can help keep writers out of the rejection pile, too.