Monday, August 4, 2008

Editing, Headaches, and Dying Brain Cells

Writing can be a joy and a pain at the same time. Of course, when you're in the middle of writing a story, you have no idea the challenges that await you at the end. I can honestly say I've learned tons since my first book was accepted by publication, but you can never assume what you learn is set in stone. Guidelines for publishing vary from house-to-house and what an author believes is a well-written story may fall victim to the editorial red pen from hell. *lol*

There are some things you can truly believe will enhance your story if you avoid them, and I'd like to share a few with you. I have the 'whip marks' to prove that I previously engaged in using these unsavory writing practices, but no more... or at least I'm trying to train my feeble brain to avoid these pitfalls:

Avoid over use of the word 'that.' You can delete 95% of them from your story without changing the meaning of your sentence. It actually helps with the word count, but does little else to enhance your story.

Avoid prepositional phrases at the end of your sentences
. To her, at him, etc., are usually implied and the reader can figure it out. Another tendency to weaken your writing if you engage in this practice.

I tend to be the queen of "Seem." This has been a hard one for me to break. For some reason, everthing 'seems to' rather than actually does something. Now I'm learning to search and eliminate these instances. Rather than saying, "his musty smell seemed to fill the room," I'll use, "his musty smell wafted upward and...." 'Seemed to,' 'tried to,' and 'began to' are considered 'stall' phrases and prevent showing the action as it unfolds.

My good friend, Phyllis Campbell, has kept me on the straight and narrow with her critiques when it comes to Cause and Effect. I've learned you must have a cause before you can have a reaction. Cause and Effect...Action/Reaction. If someone jumps, something has to happen first. Simple rule, but one I never thought about before it was brought to my attention.

Overuse of 'it.' Using a noun over a pronoun to strengthen the sentence is a much better idea. Of course, you have to try to avoid word echoing in the same paragraph, and you don't want to have too many names back to back. Confusing, but sensible when applied effectively. Example: If I had written the second sentence...It's a better idea to use a noun over a pronoun to strengthen the sentence.

Predicting dialogue.
What the heck is that, you ask. I've recently learned myself. Don't place tags that describe the person's voice before they speak. Simple. Here's an example of predicting: Her voice trembled. "Shouldn't we stop?"
Should be: "Shouldn't we stop?" Her voice trembled.

Sensory details. Another good friend from my critique group, Diane, keeps me on my toes by commenting in my chapters, "what does it smell like?" I'm pretty good at describing scenes, but I often forget to include smells. Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, Sound should all be included when you write. Reader's want to sense it all.

And my latest discovery, last but not least...Avoid 'to be' verbs. These include is, was, are, were. I wondered most about 'was,' but learned when I use 'was' with an 'ing' word, I'm telling rather than showing. Same with could, would, should. These words make the narrative past tense. Example: was hearing or could hear is better written 'heard.' Could see, was seeing, is better written 'saw.'

There's tons more to share, but I'll save it for another day. By then, I'm sure I'll have even more tips for a well-written manuscript. :) Whatever you do, don't forget to put the punctuation marks inside the quotes. *lol*

4 comments:

CherylStJohn said...

You were in Nebraska? You're home now? Where were you?

Molly Daniels said...

Hahaha...your crit partner sounds like a friend of mine. She just blogged about using the senses in our writing!

Estella said...

Enlightening post, Ginger.

Anita Davison said...

I have read lots of writing articles, but you say things succinctly and in a way I can apply rather than scratch my head and wonder if I am using them properly. I hope you make this into a series, cos I eagerly await the next one.

Oh and anyone else reading this, Ginger taught me the 'Cause and Effect rule' and the RUE rule, which I try to incorportate into my own writing.

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