Saturday, August 13, 2011

Writing is a Learning Journey

I started my writing journey in 2002 and my first novel was published in 2003.  I thought it was awesome, but several years later, after many editing sessions and learning through critique groups and on-line classes, I shuddered when I read the finished product and realized the amateur mistakes I'd made.  Luckily, when my contract expired, I took my rights back and reworked the book, improving it.  Is it perfect?  No.  I still find things I wish I would have known and changed, but every book I write is better than its predecessor.

I highly recommend critique groups to help you hone your work and reviewing the writing of others has helped me immensely.  No, I'm not a know-it-all, but I sure recognize problem areas in books, and often wonder why their editors didn't suggest changes.  One I'm reading right now has me scratching my head over that very thing.  The story is very interesting and the author writes with great descriptions, but because I read with an editorial eye, I can't get past what I consider problem areas. 

Several would disagree with me, but one publisher limits the amount of "internal" thoughts an author can use, and I understand why.  My first manuscript was fraught with them, but when i re-read the book, I realized switching from third to first person on a regular basis pulls the reader out of the story.  My preference is to have the internal thoughts posed as questions for the reader to ponder.  See which you prefer:

 I thought he was going to kiss me.  He's good with the girls, and I think he likes me, but he does seem worried about something.

 Her heart raced with hope he'd kiss he but he didn't. She earned only brief hug on his way out the door.  He'd been so good with the girls and acted as though he truly liked her, but he seemed preoccupied. Should she worry?

IMHO, the flow is much smoother.

A second pet peeve for me is using unnecessary adverbs.  Why not just use stronger verbs?  For example: She ate her pancakes hungrily.  How about she devoured her pancakes?  Or...The dog barked viciously.  I'd prefer to have you show me the vicious dog.  The dog bared his teeth and growled deep in his throat.  The fur on his back stood on end.  Better?

My most recent lesson learned deals with eliminating needless verbiage and insulting the reader's intelligence. *smile*  If we, as authors, do our job, we put the reader into the character's POV, therefore it's unnecessary to continually indicate who watched, felt, sensed, saw, etc.  Example:  She watched him pour a drink.   If we've been in her POV, then it stands to reason she's watching what he does, so he can just pour a drink.  He meandered to the bar and poured himself a drink.  Another example:  She felt the cold air on her bare arms.  How about showing the reader?  Goosebumps peppered her bare arms.  She embraced herself against the cold air.

There's a rule in writing called RUE=resist the urge to explain.  Readers are intelligent and little things like "to him, at her, for him" are easily figured out. Example:  He read the article aloud to her.  If they are the only two in the room and he's reading aloud, then I think you get my drift.  Seems petty, but these are the things that jump out at me.

 I learned to eliminate"that" from many sentences because it's unneeded.  He knew that she would feel insulted.  He knew she would feel insulted, or even better, if at all possible, eliminate the "he knew."  Of course, she'd feel insulted if he...  Put the reader into the story and let him/her figure it out.  It shouldn't be difficult. 

Word echoes show laziness.  Instead of using the same word over and over, consult your thesaurus and find something different.  No one likes redundancy.  Of course sometimes, using the same word over again is used for dramatic effect, and that's perfectly okay.

I've listed a few problem areas here.  Feel free to list your pet peeves in the comment area.  This is all about learning, and good authors never stop.  Teach me something new so I can pull out the rest of my hair.  :)



Roseanne Dowell said...

Ah, Ginger, everything you described is showing rather than telling the story. Your examples are excellent. I was taught early on to eliminate, watched, saw, felt etc. As you describe eliminate them and the sentence still makes sense. In fact better sense. I completely agree with you on getting rid of the "I" thoughts. What you did was paraphrase, which is what I like to do. Besides eliminating an awkward sentence, it eliminates those horrible italics that take me right out of a story. I despise them. I believe it was a book by Donald Maass that says DO NO USE ITALICS, they're distracting. And we never want to use anything that distracts the reader. Another distraction and One of my pet peeves is the use of words other than said. Said is an invisible. Words like replied, responded etc. are all distracting. Better to use said or nothing at all.It's not always necessary to use a tag. Sometimes an action tag works better - shows more. Okay, those are a few of my pet peeves.

Ginger Simpson said...

Roseanne, Your books are definitely enjoyable because you write without the flaws I'm mentioned. Like you, I hate italicized thoughts...even more when people use italics and "she/he thought" together. :) Totally agree on the tag things. Nothing bores me more than constant, he said, she said, he said, she said...crap, we get it. *lol*

Marie Higgins said...

Ginger, your examples were perfect! I do find when I'm reading books from my publisher that I'll see things that make me cringe, too. Even when my editor sends me back edits, I cringe. In my first story with this publisher, editor changed this line - "Heat crept up her neck to her face as embarrassment washed over her." My editor changed it to. "Her face turned red." works, but NOT if it's in HER pov!! I tried to point this out, telling my editor I had a problem with this because my heroine can't see her face (unless looking in a mirror, of course) but she can feel what her face is doing. My editor argued that when we blush, we KNOW our face is turning red without seeing it happen. Hmm... She has a point, but I still wanted it written my way. lol

Another thing my editor did a lot was take out my descriptive sentences like this one - "He scanned over her attire from the top of her ringlet hair, over her silk lavender ball gown, to her slippered feet." My editor changed it to - "He looked at her." WHAT??? Yeah, I had a fit with that out. I don't know how to tell my editor - who has been through college and got a degree doing this, and who has been and editor with one major publisher already - that she's changing my voice! I love my editor dearly, but I could teach her a thing or two about writing romance. SHEESH! But I don't dare because I'm afraid she'll label me as one of those difficult authors, and I've NEVER been one of those! lol


Ginger Simpson said...

My point exactly. Just because an editor is hired to edit doesn't mean they know as much or more than those who have been around and doing this a while. The problem now becomes weeding out the right instructions from the wrong, and trust me, like you, I've been steered down the wrong path more than once.

Weren't we instructed more than once about the "red" face? I know I was, and it you want the reader to visualize a character, it was to be through someone else's POV or else have that person looking into a mirror.

I'm not knocking editors. Their job is not easy...been there, tried it and ran screaming in the other direction, but I still think I'd do a better job at catching obvious boo boos than some I've seen recently. lol*

Ginger Simpson said...

P.S. Just wish I could be so alert in my own writing. Why is it easier to see the obvious in another's work? *lol*

Marie Higgins said...

I totally understand you, Ginger. Why can't I see it in my own writing, too? lol

With my first three books with this editor, I let most of it slip. What's funny is when I wrote my American historical (to try and find an agent), I wrote with my editor's edits in mind, thinking that this must be the way Inspy publishers want their stories - short, sweet, and to the boring point. When I landed an agent, she told me what things she wanted me to fix...and she ABHORRED that way of writing. She told me she wanted my story like the first one she'd read - which was done the way like to write. I was so happy! lol

Anyway, with my first three books, I didn't say anything to my editor. I'm turning in my fourth book now. This time I WILL NOT stand for her way of editing. She either likes the way I write, or I'm taking my story elsewhere.


Paul McDermott said...

I might be slightly 'off topic' with this but anyway ...!

I've been lucky enough to have one work published, and because I'm a "local patriot" I was pleased to be taken on by a local small publisher.
I made a small profit from the deal, and learnt a lot in the process.

I take pride in my work. I know for an absolute FACT that the MS I delivered was 250% fault free (spellings, grammar, syntax all the "boooo-ring stuff"). I as therefore very unhappy to see in the final published book that a significant number of errors had crept in which I KNOW were NOT mine.
I was encouraged by 'happy parents' to write further adventures (I should have said,the book was a Childrens' book!!) but perhaps it was no real surprise when the 'small publisher' concerned went BUST ...

Sue Perkins said...

Except for one editor in the distant past, I've always been able to work with my editors so that we come up with an amicable solution. I believe that's the secret. They're there to point out what they believe is wrong, but they're still willing to listen to you until you both feel you've got it right. Marie, I don't think I could have kept quiet about "red", it's so obvious that "red" is wrong.

Cheryl St.John said...

I just gave this workshop Saturday.

One of my chapter members posted a link to your blog. When I clicked through I found it was yours, Ginger.

Hope you're well, sweetie.

tonymurphy said...

Hi Ginger, Thanks for the tips. I've only recently become brave enough to start putting some of my writing out in a blog, (, even though I've been writing and dreaming for years. I've only recently realised that the 'build it and they will come' approach doesn't really work when it comes to having your writing published. You have to actually take it out of the drawer and do something with it. Anyway, it's always great to get some advice from more established writers so thanks again.

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