ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Insecure Writers Support Group. Are you caught up in a frenzy of editing? Here are some common mistakes not to make....


Instead of being a sniveller, I thought I might write something helpful this month. I aimed this post at mainly newbie writers as the rest of us know all there is about editing, right? Right!

If you get to the end of the first draft you've already done what many others only talk about doing - you've written a novel! 
(Jessica Strawser, ed. Writer's Digest)
A lot of us are using the 'I'm busy editing' line to duck blogfests, avoid cooking meals or loading the dishwasher and myriad other demands on our writing time, but there are many beginning writers out there who must wonder what all this 'editing' is about. As one who is busy 'editing' my first and second novels and working on collating a short story collection before I begin writing my third novel during NaNoWriMo, I've picked up a few hints from Critique Partners and how-to books that I'd like to share with the new kids on the block, er, blog, like an quick Editing 101 course.

REVISION AND SELF-EDITING (hey, try these before you send your little darlings off to your Beta Readers and Critique Partners...)

1.  Please don't use two words if one will do. I have a penchant, a tendency to do this:
                 Example: Lexie stared at the horrible, slithering mass of snakes.
                 Try: Lexie stared at the writhing mass of snakes.

2. Use Active Voice (this drives your prose like a Formula One machine.) I have an overwhelming preference for Passive Voice, a pedestrian crime I must discontinue.
                  Example: There were a great number of dead bodies lying on the ground.
                  Try: Dead bodies littered the ground.

3.  Be careful of Parallel Construction - making sure your verb tenses, uniting phrases and whatnot are aligned. Don't forget the Rule of Three (well, that excellent on-going blogfest too!.)
                   Example: The vampire bared his teeth and then, raising his claws to sharpen them, he stood licking his chops.  'Gotcha!' he said with a grin.
                   Try: The vampire bared his teeth, sharpened his claws and licked his chops*. 'Gotcha!" he said with a grin. (*Nice use of Rule of Three.)

4.  Replace adjectives and adverbs with vivid nouns and active verbs (strong verbs, concrete nouns)
                    Example: Since the day Merrie met the werewolf, she felt very scared and frightened.
                    Try: Since the day she met the werewolf, terror haunted Merrie's heart.

5.  Adverbs (someone's always complaining about adverbs but you'll find them in bestsellers constantly, lol.)
                     Example: Daisy looked longingly and lovingly at the chocolate.
                     Try: Daisy looked at the chocolate with longing and love, or:
                            Daisy's eyes consumed the chocolate. (I like this one!)

6.  Don't explain. Leave something to the reader's imagination. (I've had to edit this type of editorialising out of whole mss. I wouldn't like anyone to miss my little clues...)
                      Example: 'I'm sorry,' Peter said consolingly.
                      Use: 'I'm sorry,' Peter said. ('Said' is practically invisible.Use it a lot, I say.)

7. Don't overuse punctuation marks, especially exclamation marks!!! You can do a search through your document to highlight all your exclamation marks (or whatever is your favourite demon - maybe you like to show off by using semi-colons occasionally or a lot!), take a look then delete most of them. Your writing will flow much better.) That said, I get breathless reading when there's too few commas!

8.  Don't keep using your characters' names when they are in conversation with each other. We don't do this in everyday conversation my friend and your dialogue must be realistic my friend. Your friend would be irritated if you spoke like this:
                       'Hi Angelique, how are you today? Well Angelique I'm having a terrible day. What have you been doing Angelique?' and so on. Hello, are we afraid we'll forget her name or something? 
I confess my first Critique Partner picked up my tendency to do just this, erk! Using the character's name can be a good way to avoid having to use so many 'he saids,' 'she saids,' but it gets irritating.                

9.  Write like Twentieth Century Fox - think visually, creatively. (Treat your book like a movie with scenes. I wrote a post on this in another life. Those guys/gals in Hollywood and beyond know a thang or two or three.)

                       A quote from Eddy Peters on this: Not only does the English language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head and goes through their pockets. (Remind you of Stephen King's writing?)

10. Remember if your first line, first paragraph or first page doesn't catch an editor's attention, you're wasting your time revising, so check that:

                        - The first line of your novel immediately creates questions for your reader and puts something at stake - your hook.
                         - Your protagonist must make choices. Create conflict.
                         - Try to save backstory for later. Don't interrupt your opening scenes with backstory.
  • I hope you gleaned something new from what are quite common writing 'mistakes.' Just keep an open mind. Remember thought, when it comes to English, rules are made to be broken
  • Can you share any editing helps with our new kids in the blogosphere?.Please share in the comments.
Click here to read more posts for Insecure Writers Support Group, brainchild of Alex J Cavanaugh. The members post the first Wednesday of every month and you might find questions you can answer or help for your particular problem. 




47 comments:

  1. Those are great reminders! I like #9!

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  2. Good list of reminders. Wish you hadn't mentioned eyes consuming chocolate though ;-)

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  3. Great reminders for Newbies like me, and the examples are really helpful. Thanks!

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  4. This is a fantastic list! I'm RTing it.

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  5. Great tips! I tend to use redundant phrases too much in my first drafts :)

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  6. Awesome post! And Holy Cow, is it that time of the month again for IWSG???? Gah! And NaNo soon to follow....

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  7. ...my novel had three complete re-writes, one of which was specifically designed to eliminate all the "passive crap," or so my editor politely encouraged.

    Great list, Aussie ;)

    El

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  8. Great post, very helpful in the editing phase! Although I prefer to consume my chocolate the old fashioned way, lol.

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  9. Yes, yes, yes to all of these hints (I'd say imperatives). #8 especially drives me crazy. Add to it: use pronouns WHENEVER it's clear who's talking!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  10. Love the idea of not having to explain when dialogue conveys the message well enough. Great points!

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  11. Simple explanations, but difficult to put into practice. Good post.

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  12. Hi everyone! Glad this post is getting positive press. Don't we need to be continually reminded about these things??? Or should I say!!!!!!

    Denise

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  13. Good reminders. I'm slowly getting better at avoiding the redundant words... kinda ;)

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  14. Lynda: Trouble is, sometimes we don't feel they're redundant do we?

    Denise

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  15. I like the list, I often just sit and type and have a habit of not even bothering to read over what I have written.

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  16. Jo-Anne: So easy to do.

    Denise

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  17. Excellent post and some great reminders. I'm really good at some of them but there are a few I struggle, like active voice. Good thing there are edits or my stories would be passive ones in both present and past tense. lol

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  18. Dawn: Yep. I have a struggle with the old active voice too!

    Denise

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  19. I am one of those newbies and these are great tips, very well explained.

    Now I'm thinking of chocolate!

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  20. Margo, hope you find them helpful.

    Denise

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  21. This was really helpful. I wanted to use an exclamation point, but restrained myself. I love the part about becomming "breathless" when too few commas are present. I wish I could bookmark this, as I will often reference it. Thanks Denise! (I can't go cold turkey)

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  22. You put a lot of great tips in there. Very helpful. Thanks for posting this.

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  23. Excellent post, with great reminders!

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  24. Thank you, especially for the examples. Another one to bookmark!

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  25. Superb advice! After a year and a half learning all these rules and guidelines, I've finally managed to get them down, or most of them anyway. Number 8 on your list is my one problem area. I read all my dialogue out loud to make sure it works and sounds natural, but I've had to edit out more than few to many names.

    (Great post! I'm a fellow member of Alex's IWSG and also posted today.)

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  26. Well guys pleased you're finding this post useful!

    Denise

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  27. Wow, excellent tips, Denise! Yeah, I've done that first one. Still do. Bet I do most of them for that matter!

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  28. Awesome advice! Love "Daisy's eyes consumed the chocolate." and "write like Twentieth Century Fox."

    Thanks!
    -Tyrean at http://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/

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  29. Excellent advice, Denise! If only people would actually TAKE it ;o)

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  30. Great advice! Weeding out adverbs is hard. I love them. :)

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  31. Tyrean: Thank you.

    Jessica: Yeah, well, me too!

    Laura: I adore adverbs and like to use them constantly, lol!

    Denise

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  32. Oh, Denise,

    Where were you with this list a few years ago... I was guilty of almost ALL of those things and then some.

    I had to learn the hard way with brutal criticisms and tons of research. And TONS OF REVISIONS.

    Thankfully I learned a thing or two when I wrote my second novel.

    My advise to newbies... Definitely do word searches. They are great to find the "LY" words and ANY words you have a tendency to us OVER AND OVER again.

    We all have our favorite catch words and expressions, but BE careful you do beat them to death and watch out for Cliches. They have a tendency to creep into the prose the moment you let your guard down.

    This is a great reminder to us all. Thanks Denise.

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  33. Thank you for all the helpful hints. Even if I'm not that new of a writer anymore, it's always good to be reminded. :)

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  34. Great reminders. I personally like #9.

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  35. Don't explain. I think I'm going to get that tattooed on the back of my writing hand :-)

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  36. Thanks for the Rule Of Three shout :-) These are great tips. One of my pet toe-curling peeves is the overuse of names in dialogue - but I don't think I've seen it addressed in writing tips before.

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  37. Well said....and Happy Birthday. Would you mind if I linked to this post on my new blog, N. R. Williams, The Writing Craft?

    For new writers I would recommend The Writers Journey by Volger and Self-Editing for the fiction writer by King and Renne. The Writers Journey provides great insights using movies as demonstration and Self-Editing answers multiple questions.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, Fantasy Author

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  38. Hi Denise,

    A great post.

    I also use some craft books, Dummies Guide to Roamne Writing, Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, and Kristen Lamb does wonderful posts as well.

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  39. Hi Denise,

    A great post.

    I also use some craft books, Dummies Guide to Roamne Writing, Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, and Kristen Lamb does wonderful posts as well.

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  40. LOL, and look at my typo! Romance!

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  41. Great responses. And good to find more links for the same type of tips. Go ahead and link, Nancy! Be my guest! I'm back from the wedding festivities but still feeling a bit quiet, you know what I mean!?

    Denise

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  42. Quite a comprehensive list here, Denise and great reminders.

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  43. Thank you for this great blog post. I've tweeted it to my followers. Good advice here!

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