Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Long Moments and Other Things that Drive Me Nuts

On Monday I wrote THE END on a novel I've been working on for two years. It was a difficult story to write, and I really rejoiced when I completed it. So what's next for this manuscript? Well, besides seeking expert input from some of my Novel Matters pals who have time enough to read it right now, I go back to the beginning and start my edits. Some of you love this part of the writing process. I don't happen to. But do I think it's necessary? Absolutely.

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.
To this list I add an item of my own: Search and Replace. I keep an ever-expanding list of words I use unconsciously that weaken my writing, but they're not quite the same as Holt's "Repeats." Using my list, I search them out and delete them. Sometimes I can do it with a touch of the Delete button, and sometimes I have to rewrite the sentence to strengthen it first. But bottom line, I get rid of them. Many are adverbs, but "got" is near the top of my list. For example, I'll write, "I have got" to do such and such, rather than "I have" to do such and such. The "got" adds nothing to the sentence, but makes the writer sound less articulate. I also search out verbs to which I've added "ing" making them nouns, and rewrite the sentence. Example: "There was a drawing of spectators to the scene of the crash" vs. "The accident drew a crowd."

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.


Katie Ganshert said...

I'm one of those who really likes revisions. Only because it means the story is written. I have all kinds of anxiety during the rough draft. That article sounds great! Thanks for the link.

Happy revising!

Megan Sayer said...

Sharon congratulations! That's so exciting, especially after a two year process. I wish you all the very best with your re-reads...and a nice bottle of champagne while you're at it.

And for my 25 cents worth on pet-peeve words: please don't describe anything (or everything) brown as "cinnamon". The first time I read it it was fresh and original, now it seems to be the hot new adjective in contemporary women's fiction and I'm sick of it already! How about nutmeg...or burnt coriander? : ) Toast?

Dina Sleiman said...

I try to look at my book as a big picture first and work inward.

1) Big plot and structure issues.
2) Scenes for a good balance of characterization, action, description, and dialogue. I also look at scenes for tension and hooks and strong openings.
3) Paragraph by paragraph and line by line for flow and tightness of writing.
4) Word by word for issues you mentioned.

Once I think I'm done I also read it on paper, out loud, and listen to a voice to text reading of it.

Hopefully someday I'll be enough of a pro to move through editing more quickly :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Bookmarking this.

Cliches bug me, even though I've been caught with a few in my hands.

The End...I bet that felt...well, satisfying, daunting, exciting and slew of other tangled things.

~ Wendy

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments and for the congratulations. I sit here, rubbing my hands together, eager to get started. I'll let you know how it goes.

Nicole said...

Cliches outside of dialogue bug me, too. People use them when speaking all the time, and once in awhile they fit outside of that.

You know, adverbs don't bug me much unless they're [really] excessive.

I have no idea why but I use the word "slight" a lot.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Sharon, can't wait to read the new book.

I know several authors that should read that articale. :-) As a reader thanks for mentioning the importance of revisions.

Megan - There are times that as someone who reads tons of books, it is not only words that get over used, but settings also. The running joke in the store is if a book is going to be a good historical romance it has to be set in Texas. Not sure why, but there are bunches and bunches of them set there.

Colorado is the other place that seems to have it's share of settlers.

Lynn Dean said...

It surprised me to realize how quickly an unusual word can become an annoying "pet." In one manuscript I had everybody winking, nodding, and beckoning. Rarely twice in any one chapter, mind you, but still by the time I got halfway through the manuscript they all seemed like a bunch of bobble heads. Ick!

As for pet-peeve phrases, how about the his-gut-clenched-her-heart-fell syndrome? In an attempt to "show vs. tell" I'm afraid we've created new cliches that don't show much. And blushing! How many of us really blush every other moment?

Nicole said...

Oh yeah, Lynn. Stay away from my blushes! C'mon. Please? ;)

some chick said...

One of the things I look for is extra wording in dialogue tags. If I have a "she said" followed by a comma and action, I try to take out the "she said", stick a period in my quote, and write the action as the tag.

Congrats on THE END! Such a good feeling!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

In the first draft of my first novel I had everyone "knitting their brows". A few people kept "pursing their lips". And one person seemed to have a "stream of tears" all the time.

Ergh! Blech! Arugh!

One word I have grown to HATE is "sardonic". I can't remember the author who caused such hostility for that word...but I abhor it!

Anonymous said...

Some chick: EXACTLY! Action tags are so much better when they can be used.

Chris: Thank you! I sincerely hope you get the chance.

Lynn, I know exactly what you mean. I'm forever taking shrugs out of my manuscripts. You think I'd learn.

Nicole, I don't mind an adverb here and there, but only if they're fresh and they add something.

Susie, yep, knitting and pursing are so overdone. They need to go, right along with my shrugs.

Bonnie Grove said...

When it comes to all that head nodding, head shaking, pursed lips, and knitted brow stuff, I agree -- get rid of it! Dialogue tags that describe a characters actions must be meaningful. And used sparingly. I can't tell you how many novels I've looked at recently filled with the bobble heads you mentioned, Lynn.

Novelists are creative people. We cannot rely on tricks of the trade to write our stories. We must, at all times, reach for the unexpected, the sublime, the truly original.

Or what's the point?

I'm beyond excited to be one of the very few people allowed to read Sharon's completed novel pre-pub. Yay!

Kathleen Popa said...

Oh, well, if there was ever a place to knit eyebrows (I see some lady with her needles clacking), it's in the first draft. See, editing is only fun if there's room for improvement.

I'm another of the lucky few who get to read Sharon's manuscript. I hope it soon becomes the lucky many.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie and Katy:


Bonnie Grove said...

Okay, knitted brows -- every time I see that phrase I think of Ruth Buzzy's old lady character in Laugh In. Remember, she wore a black hair net that bunched at the eyebrow?
THAT is the image I have in my head when I see "she knit her brows".

And now you do, too.

Hilarey said...

I finished my latest this morning and opened up this page. What a timely post, Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Hilarey. What a great feeling, huh?

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I thought for a moment I had finished my manuscript. Then a loose end threatened to hang me. As it closed about my throat I seized it and have been wrestling creatively ever since. What rich revelations! I'm delighted with the possibilities but it means another few...months, years....
Wow! With everybody's achievements my $5 celebration jar is filling up. Keep them coming, fellow writers, then I'll be able to employ an editor! And keep adding to your jar too.

SHARLENE said...

I cannot help but throw in this poem I wrote on the subject a year or two ago. Thanks for the link, Bonnie. Great article!


Inside This Writer’s Head…

The second draft, oh what a blast!
The editing is here at last!
Crossing ‘t’s, dotting ‘i’s,
Reread, rewrite, rethink, revise.

The road to “Finish” takes awhile,
Research, outlines, setting, style,
Files full of worthless news,
Stuff I’ll never even use!

All this for that first, sweet copy,
Who cares if it’s a wee bit sloppy?
Because—guess what— no need to whine,
The editing will make it shine!

Some writers really hate this phase,
Fine-tune, tighten, trim, rephrase.
But me? I find it sheer delight
It means the end is within sight.

I approach it with an eye for fun,
Remembering it’s almost done.
And, then, I’ll finally stop my stewing.
But wait! Another story’s brewing!

Shar MacLaren © Oct. 2008