Monday, July 13, 2009

Rules? What Rules?

Oh, if only there was one set of rules to follow...a lesson you could study and know it all. I've been writing fiction since 2002, and I learn some new 'rule' every day. It eventually becomes so frustrating you wonder why you want to be an author in the first place. At least I do. I'm surprised I still have hair.

I recently reclaimed the rights to White Heart, Lakota Spirit, which I wrote in 2005. Our last camping trip was so uncomfortably hot, I pulled out my copy and read it...this time as a reader. I couldn't believe how differently I would have written it today, so rather than renew my contract, I asked to have the rights revert back to me so I could redo the story. I've spent nearly three weeks, eliminating instances such as:

*Describing a person's voice before they spoke. I've learned that tags should follow the dialogue, especially when you're saying something like, 'Her voice quivered.' Unless she speaks, how would you know how she sounded?

*Using a character's name far too many times, especially when only two people were having the conversation. Example: "Did you have a nice day, John?"
Yes, Steve, I did. And you, John?"
Get the picture?

*Over explaining (RUE = Resist the urge to explain). For example, if an author does a good job of setting the scene, there is no need to write, 'She widened her eyes in disbelief.' The reader will know why SHE widened her eyes. "Her heart pounded with fright." If I've SHOWN my reader the scene, hopefully, her/his heart will pound and they'll know the reason. *smile*

*Using words that didn't exist during the era. I only found a few, but I'm surprised they slipped by without notice. I've become much more proficient in using my Online Etymology Dictionary

*Overdone words. Starting too many sentences with "Oh," and "Well." Honestly, what was I thinking? Was my editor snoozing? I've rewritten many of the paragraphs simply to improve the flow.

*Action before reaction. Sometimes you have to stop and think about how you can word the sentence so that you are showing the reader what happened before you show the character's reaction. You can't have someone jump before the gun fires...well you can, but it isn't correct, or so I'm told.

*Internal thoughts. This story was fraught with way too many. I've since learned that most publishers prefer having very few internal thoughts and instead prefer using dialogue or just posing questions for the reader. Instead of This can't be happening. I have the worst luck. I'd now write, Luck wasn't with her. How could this be happening again? Or something like that. It's almost 4:00 a.m. and I'm wondering what in heck I'm doing blogging. *smile*

*Telling instead of showing. This is a biggie. "She opened the door. It was heavy," is telling. Okay, so that's an amateur example, but wouldn't you rather read, "Clare tugged the massive oak door open." of "After twenty jumping jacks, her breathing was heavy. She told John she was out of shape." Doesn't this work better? Clare completed the last of fifty jumping jacks. Sweat dripped into her eyes and her breath came in ragged gasps. "I'm out of shape." She looked at John and stated the obvious.

*Starting sentences with "It". I've discovered using a pronoun as the subject often weakens the writing. Readers don't always remember what "it" is. Better to identify. "It bothered him." Really....what was it? A rash? Tight jockey shorts? A nagging wife? See what I mean?

*Removing needless phrases at the end of sentences that are inferred. "To him, for her, at him..." The list goes on and on.
Honestly, there are so many instances where these phrases add nothing. For instance...If John and Mary are playing tennis, and you've set the scene with them on opposite sides of the net, why would you need to tell the reader she hit the ball "to him." Who else is she going to hit the ball to?

*Eliminating unnecessary instances of "that." This has been a hard habit for me to break. I feel THAT it's much better to explain THAT my bad habits may result in a poor presentation, than to admit THAT I just forget sometimes. If you take out the capitalized "THATs", the thought remains the same. *lol*

I'm sure there are changes I've made, but the story already reads so much better. I'm hoping I can sell White Heart, Lakota Spirit again, because the story is really a good one. I just didn't do a very good job of promoting. Bad, bad girl!

I'm pretty sure that if I am successful in selling it, buy the time the manuscript becomes a novel again, I will have learned many more rules of fiction writing that I'll wish I had known. Being an author is like riding a Merry Go Round...and endless circle that sometimes make you sick to your stomach. *rofl*

P.S. Can you tell I love Cartoon Clipart?


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Terrific article, oh and so true. I actually cringe when I read some of my earlier efforts. My biggest "bad habit' was and I think it still is, but no so bad as before, is "telling not showing." Good luck with the re-vamped story.


Tabitha Shay said...

Hi Miz Ging,
As always you make valid points in your articles. I cringe at some of my earlier work,too. I can't wait to get the rights back and re-edit. I think we never stop growing as authors and we take what we've learned along the way and apply it, that's what makes each new book we write that much stronger and better...Tabs

Anita Davison said...

I'm sure most writers will identify with most or all of these 'gaffes', Ginger. I too used many of these once, and I'm proud to say you helped me exclude them from my own writing.

unwriter said...

So far I've been able to eliminate tag lines by just including them in the dialogue, "Mandy, let's go for another adventure". I follow this with, "Ok Alex, Where to this time?" It saves adding tags. Now for the show versus tell, that I need to work on.

Very good post.

Unknown said...

Unwriter...I believe I've finally mastered show versus tell. I'm working on all those other little niggling annoyances. Just make sure when you use the names rather than tags that you don't fall into the trap of redundancy that I pointed out--using names too frequently when only two people are involved in the conversation. I also forgot to mention weeding out repetitive words in the same paragraph. That's another annoyance I seem to zero in on when I read. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks, Margaret, Tab, and Anita. You gals are always so supportive of my daily drivel. You are all very special to me. :)


Rhobin said...

Hi Ginger.
So true, the longer you write the more your learn, and each writer has their own set of bad habits...

I have a list.

Maryannwrites said...

Very good post, Ginger. We discuss a lot of the same things at the Blood Red Pencil blog, and your post here would make a good series of reminders of things we have covered there. I'll e-mail you about it.

Mary E. Trimble said...

Ginger, you've made some excellent points. It's an eye-opener to go back and read a book you've written a few years ago. Still, like you, I've found it a thrill to enjoy a good story again.

kmt1976 said...

I enjoyed your RUE comment. My daughter says to me, "Mum, when I ask you a question, just answer it. Don't teach me something!" Of course, as a teacher I don't know any other way to answer a question :>)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Great tips, definitely need to be reminded of them all.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Anita Birt said...

I think we should have another rule. Never read your book published five or ten years ago unless it's to reward yourself for becoming a much better writer.

Thanks for the post and the revelations of things past.

Maggi Andersen said...

By the time I learn all this, they'll change the rules, lol.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Ginger,

An excellent post, though I am not sure that I'd call these "rules". Rather, you've highlighted some bad habits that we all need to be on the alert for. ("For which we all need to be on the alert"...LOL) I particularly have trouble with overusing names in dialog. I'm not sure why - that's how I hear it in my head.



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