William Zinsser, in his excellent little book On Writing Well, says that "The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components." Like other bits of great advice, this one should be adopted judiciously, but it's a principle to observe and respect. We don't all want to turn into Hemingway, but we don't want to write like Austen these days, either.
I propose to blog about a few of the secrets of clean writing--what I call "lucid" prose--and which can set the amateur apart from the professional (and the published apart from the unpublished). There are a few issues which bear scrutiny: said synonyms, for example; passive voice; telling; and my particular allergy to adverbs.
Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and a former editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell. I came across a post of hers on the issue of looking/eye words, which was one I hadn't even thought of before, and which is a fine place to start.
Cavelos writes: "Many authors overuse words involving looking and eyes. They describe their characters looking, glancing, gazing, staring, studying, seeing, surveying, scanning, peeking, leering, ogling, noticing, watching, blinking, glaring, and just generally eyeballing everything. Characters' eyes flash, burn, linger, darken or brighten, and even change color. Characters' eyes drop to the floor (ouch!); they roam around the room (eeek!). Or characters may raise the ever-popular eyebrow.
"At Bantam Doubleday Dell, I once edited a book in which the author described characters looking in almost every paragraph. The author gave his male character a line of dialogue, then said, "He looked at her." Then the female character said a line of dialogue, and "her eyes narrowed on him." Then the male character spoke, and "he looked away." The female character said nothing, only "stared at him." This went on for 600 pages."
This made me squirm a bit in my writer's chair! I'm sure I've been guilty of this fault. I'll be adding it to my list of things to watch for on revision.
You can read the entirety of Cavelos's excellent post, and a lot more of her advice, here: http://odysseyworkshop.livejournal.com/27400.html