Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Micro-editing

There are only 15 days left to submit your chapter and synopsis to our Audience-with-an-Agent Contest. Lori Benton was just offered a contract for representation from Wendy Lawton as a result of our first contest. Don't miss out!

Patricia W. is the winner of Blue Hole Back Home from Monday's drawing. Patricia, please use our contact button to supply your snail mail address. Congratulations!
~
Before a manuscript becomes a book it will, or should, go through a series of edits, some by the author and some by a publisher's in-house editor. On Monday, Patti talked about macro-editing the first draft of her WIP. That's where you look at the manuscript as a whole for continuity, loose ends, POV or tense problems, etc. I love her octopus-in-a-jar analogy, and I'm super impressed with her color-coded outline. Arguably anal? Not if it works, Patti. Ideally, it helps to take a break between completing a manuscript and starting the read-through for the macro edit. It gives you a fresh look at the story. I know FIRM deadlines like Patti mentioned can make it difficult to let the manuscript sit for a while, but when possible put it aside for a couple of weeks before starting the read-through.
~
Another type of edit is the micro edit, where you look at the manuscript line by line to make sure every word is the right word, that the meaning comes through loud and clear. This is the time to replace passive verbs with active, and ferret out superfluous words, phrases, sentences, even paragraphs. William Brohaugh in his excellent book Write Tight (which I recommend), says, "The goal is to deliver 60,000 words with 60,000 words of value ... Whatever the length, you must deliver value." In other words, every word must count. Go through the manuscript and delete as many adjectives and adverbs as you reasonably can. Leave in only the ones that add something unique or surprising, or that are absolutely necessary. Often, adjectives or adverbs are crutches used to make up for a weak noun or verb. When you find the right noun or verb the modifier can usually be cut. And when you come across a noun modified by two or more adjectives, in most cases you should select only the strongest and eliminate the others. When I finish a manuscript I do a search from a list of words I've compiled that I tend to use and overuse: really, very, quite, some, just --it's a growing list -- and send them packing.
~
Adjectives and adverbs aren't the only culprits in our writing. Redundant words and phrases make for flabby prose. Consider the phrases absolutely certain or follows behind. When you're certain about something, there's no room for doubt, so absolutely is redundant. And when you follow someone, you don't do it from the front, so behind is another wasted word. Little things like that clutter what might otherwise be a good manuscript. This may seem trivial or nitpicky, but consider this: The typical proposal consists of a summary, a synopsis, author bio, promotion ideas and three sample chapters. But the editor or agent who picks up your manuscript may not get through three paragraphs if the writing isn't crisp and above par.
~
Long passages of narrative can be a problem as well. I'm not saying there shouldn't be passages of narrative. I have a favorite author whose fiction is 80% narrative. But the narrative needs to serve a purpose beyond describing the landscape or weather, unless the landscape or weather contributes to the plot. Use just enough to establish the setting of a scene, then get on with it. As author Elmore Leonard said, "... leave out the parts that people skip." I know, that's easier said than done, but take note of the expendable passages in the books you read for pleasure, the passages you're tempted to skim, then try to leave those out of your own writing.
~
In chapter 2 of Write Tight, "Sixteen Types of Wordiness and How to Trim Them," Brohaugh says this about "weed words ... the stuff that grows so hardily in your manuscripts. Trouble is, like some weeds, these parasitic undergrowths can deceive you. They're pretty, and they don't look like weeds. Wordweeds, prunable leaves and branches ... fall into these general categories:
  1. The redundant
  2. The already understood
  3. The empty
  4. The evasive
  5. The passive
  6. The weak, the noncommital and the hesitant
  7. The affected
  8. The circuitous
  9. The self-indulgent
  10. The overkill
  11. The inflated and the deflated
  12. The invisible and therefore unnecessary
  13. The imprecise
  14. The clever and the show-offy
  15. The nonsensical
  16. The beautiful
Whew! Seems like a lot to eliminate. What's left, you wonder? A stronger, tighter manuscript that rises above the slush pile. I know, I used two adjectives, and sometimes that's alright. But tell me, what one word would you use to replace the two I used to get the exact meaning across? Do you have your own list of words you search and destroy in your manuscript?

14 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

Thanks! This post is really helpful. Brevity. I must keep that in mind :-)

Latayne C Scott said...

Okay -- I'll throw in a word. How about "distilled"?

Excellent post, Sharon. The tightness of your own writing shows that you put this into practice.

When my first novel underwent the editor's knife, my agent Janet Grant wrote me, "I hope he didn't murder too many of your darlings." It's true, we become enamored with our words and it hurts to have them excised. Better to do self-surgery first-- gives us a better first impression with the editor, I think.

Cynthia Schuerr said...

My worse nightmare are passive verbs. They roll off of my tongue, or out of my pen, too easily. It takes forever to switch them out when editing.
Thank you for this post. It's a great reminder.

Lori Benton said...

I'm in the midst of what Latayne called self-surgery. You just handed me a few new scalpels. Thank you!

Latayne C Scott said...

Okay, I have a question. Why would you want to excise 'the beautiful"?

Sharon K. Souza said...

Latayne, by 'the beautiful' Brohaugh means the pet words we have that we have to force into a sentence just so that word can be used.

I'm enjoying all your comments.

Bonnie Grove said...

What's left?
The essential story.

Great post, Sharon! I learn so much from this blog. I can't believe I'm allowed to contribute to it! :)

some chick said...

Ooh! Ooh!

So I'm currently editing my first completed(!) novel, and while my focus right now is rewriting to fix the holes, the next round will be the line-by-line edit. It's creepy how much I'm looking forward to that.

I always cut the word "very", passive voice (although it does have its place), most non-"said" attribution, superfluous adjectives and adverbs.

ADVERBS!

Adverbs are the bane of my existence. I am mortified at how many times I use adverbs outside of dialogue. I find I use then often when writing first drafts. They're such a crutch, those pesky adverbs.

Consider this post bookmarked.

Jan Cline said...

Wow - that's some word diet. I hate diets! But I do want a slim healthy manuscript. I went through and searched for "was" and a few others to clean them out. Pruning is good for new growth.
Excellent post - I will study it from time to time.

Sharon K. Souza said...

The essential story. Excellent, Bonnie!

some chick,not creepy at all. Just another part of the process that I enjoy too.

Jan, "was" is a great word to do a global search on. It can always be improved upon.

word verification: "amsold" on the terrific input we get from all our contributors.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Off topic: I missed you and Katy at Mount Hermon. Thought of you especially on Awards night. Wish I'd been there to see you two win the co-writer of the year award.

Becky

Kathleen Popa said...

Becky, I was just looking at some pictures of you on Facebook, and thinking how sad I was I didn't get to see you. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for remembering our award. I haven't even heard who won Author of the Year this year. Can you tell us?

One day it will be you. I hope I'm there to see.

Debra E Marvin said...

Printing this one off!

Does Brohaugh give more details on some of his list? I'm going to take a look at the book.

By the way, I think I've seen an octopus put itself into a jar...

Thanks, Sharon

Sharon K. Souza said...

Yes, Debra, Brohaugh goes into detail with each category. It's a very good book, one I keep at my fingertips for reference. It's one you'll read and re-read.