I came across an article more than a year ago titled "The Ten Mistakes" by Pat Holt that I thought would be a useful resource once I'd completed this (and future) manuscripts. I printed it out and filed it, then promptly forgot about it. But when I was looking for another resource yesterday, which I still can't find, I came across the article. (Really, I'm not as unorganized as I sound.) It's subtitled "Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). So as I read the manuscript for the big picture things: characterization, conflict, scene evaluation, rising action, etc., I'll also be looking for some of the common mistakes that Holt writes about.
Sol Stein, in Stein on Writing (an absolute must for your writer's bookshelf), suggests the triage method of revision, which is dealing with the big picture items in your first read-through, and then dealing with "trivial corrections" with the next read-through. That's good advice I intend to follow. Besides, who am I to contradict Sol Stein??
But for the sake of this post, let's assume I've done my big picture revisions, and have returned to Page One for the trivial corrections. What are they? According to Stein it's excising every cliche, eliminating unessential adjectives, tightening dialogue. In short, making every word count. Here are a few more according to Pat Holt:
- Repeats -- These are "crutch words" we unconsciously use -- over and over and over. Or they're really good words or phrases that are perfect when you use them once, but that become obnoxious and show-offy when used again. And again.
- Phony Dialogue -- That's when characters talk to each other about things they already know purely for the benefit of the reader. Here's an example of a husband and wife having a Phony Dialogue conversation: "James, darling, my husband of fifteen years, our only son Edward, who attends John Muir Elementary School, needs to be picked up today at noon, because he has an appointment with Dr. Gums, the dentist we've gone to all of Edward's young life. Will you see he gets there, my love?" "Unfortunately, precious, my brother Woodrow, who is three years older than I am, needs me to take him to the airport since his wife Zelda, who took their only daughter Phoebe, and ran away with their accountant last week, is unavailable." Exaggerated yes, but we've all read books with this type of mistake.
- No-Good Suffixes -- There are "ness," "ize," and "ingly" words, to name a few. Example: "He tackled the job with fearlessness." Much better and more straightforward to say, "He was fearless in his approach." "I territorialize my bathroom vanity" vs. "This half is mine, bud!" "I look adoringly at my granddaughter, Abbie" vs. "I adore my little Abi-girl."
- Empty Adverbs -- This happens to be one of my pitfalls. I put them in when I write, then take them out when I edit, because they're (completely) unnecessary. Enough said.
Holt's article covers other topics such as Flat Writing; The "To Be" Words; Lists; Show, Don't Tell; Awkward Phrasing; and Commas. While I've only touched on a few of the mistakes, the article is worth printing out in its entirety and filing away where it won't be lost.
I'm excited to read through my newly completed manuscript. Unlike other novels I've written. I haven't saturated myself with this one by reading it over and over as I write. Instead, I've written this one with a minimum of looking back, which will make the work fresher as I begin my edits.
What resources do you use when you begin your revisions? What are some of the repeat words you use in your writing that you need to search out and annihilate as you revise? Do you have any particular pet peeves in the way of words or phrases? I do. "Long moment." I see it all the time and it drives me nuts. Honestly, a moment is a moment. If it's long, then it's something else. A writer should try to figure out what that is.