I'm knee-deep in words cut from my MS. Still, I'm looking for more to cut. I'll turn my attention to prepositional phrases next.
Prepositional phrases have two roles. They act as either an adjective or adverb. What does that mean? Well, they describe things or actions.
I love description, but words that describe are always optional. Keep that in mind. After all, when you edit, you’re working magic on your relationship with your reader, and fewer descriptive words almost always leads to a stronger, more trusting 300-page relationship.
I find the easiest to rewrite are adverb prepositional phrases. They describe the action in the sentence, and can often be edited out, altogether.
Let’s take this sentence: “The dragon swiped at the boy with a claw on his forepaw.” Twelve words.
Here’s where your trust in your reader’s intelligence comes in and magic takes place.
You, the author, have to believe that your reader will know the dragon’s going to swipe with an arm, not a leg or a tail. If the dragon did swipe with a leg or tail, well, that would definitely be worth mentioning in the sentence, right? It’s not the norm when swiping, and it might even signal the dragon's being sneaky. But what if the dragon's not being sneaky? He's just being...a dragon. You trust your reader to pick up on the obvious in your story, and swiping with an arm is, dare I say it, expected, so … When you edit, you get: “The dragon swiped at the boy with a claw.”
You think you're finished. You love the claw. I love the claw. It's placement is troublesome, however. The boy or the dragon could be the possessor of the claw. Again, less is more in this trusting relationship you're building with your reader, so, let’s go through the whole, trust your reader routine again.
If, as an author, you trusted your reader to read the arm into the sentence (because this is an ordinary dragon, using predictable tactics, and he has no anatomical surprises), do you think you can go a step further and trust your reader to know, not only is the dragon going to swipe with an arm, but there’s probably a claw at the end of a finger, attached to a paw or hand, at the end of that dragon's arm? Look in your heart. You know you can, but more importantly, you know your reader can.
Now, when you edit, you get: “The dragon swiped at the boy.”
Beautiful, simple, and half the original number of words. And, you've told your reader, "I think you're smart! You can figure out all this stuff about the dragon swiping without my having to tell you." You're building trust.
Depending on the scene context, I could even get it down to three words, if I’ve established the boy in the scene earlier. Why? Because I trust my reader to know the boy’s in the scene, especially if there's dialogue between the two, or they're the only two souls on the field.
If the dragon, however, has more than one target for swiping, I might keep the boy in the sentence. It would be important to know who the dragon’s swiping, after all.
Let's move on to editing out prepositional phrases that modify nouns, known as adjective phrases. They're fairly easy to spot and can be written out quickly.
“The soldiers opened the door to the Council chambers.”
The whole phrase, “to the Council chambers,” can be rewritten as plain old adjectives, “The soldiers opened the Council chamber doors.” You eliminate two words, "to the," but none of the meaning.
Note: Some variation is needed in your sentence construction, so you won't do this every single time. Just the majority of the time.
If, when you start getting rid of prepositional phrases and you start noticing the nouns in your sentences are adorned with three or more adjectives (example: "The soldiers opened the old, rickety, Council chamber doors.) eliminate a few adjectives. One or two is plenty!
Again, trust your reader to be in your world and imagining what you've already described. They get it. I promise.