Monday, October 24, 2011

When is Enough Enough?

Becoming an author did nothing to enhance my joy in reading.  In fact, as I've learned rules to apply to my own style, I find glaring examples of said faux pas in the writing of other's.  What used to be an enjoyable pastime has now become a struggle to turn off my internal editor and stop looking for problem areas.

I know other authors suffer the same dilemma, but I have to ask, how do we stop that infernal red pen that lives in our head?  Does it ever run out of ink?

Funny, I can't seem to self-edit with any degree of accuracy, but if another author uses passive voice, head hops, or duplicates words within a paragraph, I'm on it like white on rice.  *smile*  New rules crop up every day, it seems, so I always have new things to seek and bitch about.

The biggest complaint I have recently, is when is enough enough?  Do we really need to tell the reader our character clenched his teeth IN FRUSTRATION, or is the fact that he's clenching his teeth a hint to his emotions?  Authors tend to ignore the I did even know existed until it was explained to me...RUE=Resist the Urge to Explain.

Stories are fraught with more information than readers need to figure things out, but is that a bad thing.  Does it really distract them from the they come to a skidding halt and widen their eyes at "slowly limped" when no one really limps fast?  As writer's we are encouraged to avoid "ly" words and use stronger verbs to show action...example, "she excitedly said" might be "she yelled.  Instead of having her raise her hands in frustration, I might decide to have her clench her fists until her nails dig into her palms.  There's always a variation, and some call it style or voice.  Often, there are times when an "ly" word lends clarity to the situation, and in my opinion, enhance the story.  You can't always find that right word that convey your meaning.  Do readers actually keep count?

The biggest dilemma for me as an author is keeping up with the never-ending rules that continue to crop up everyday and then decide which ones work for me and which don't.  Of course, writers are also governed by house rules.  Some publishers limit the number of exclamation points you can use, some forbid internal thoughts, some encourage them.  Life just keeps getting more and more confusing.  Am I the only one who feels this way?  If you really want to be confused, join a critique group and be exposed to the rules everyone has learned.  How does one decide which suggestions merit thought and which are which coming from someone who hasn't been around long enough to know better?  Don't use "she," use the character's name, "don't use the character's name, use a pronoun.  Geez Louise!

I can't remember where I put my car keys at any given moment, but I'm supposed to recall which publisher allows what, who wants twelve point fonts as opposed to fourteen, when to use "Chapter One," or just "One", or if it's Tuesday, is it alright to post to Romance Cafe or Coffee Time.  Honestly, no wonder dementia strikes so many seniors.  It's protection from all these blasted rules.

Just to test the's an excerpt from my latest WIP.  Did I tell too much, did I confuse you, have I mastered anything at all in ten years of writing?  Trust me, I know better than to expect everyone to see my style as their cup of tea.  No matter what you write, some will gush over it, some will hate it.  There's just no making everyone happy.

Excerpt from Hattie's Hero:

Hattie rode until the rocking wagon lulled the children to sleep then slid over the tailgate, intent on walking a while.  The sun beat down with relentless heat, making her thankful for the wide-brimmed bonnet from Abby.  An occasional breeze rifled the knee-high grass and brought momentary respite, but sweat adhered her gingham dress to her like cloying hands.  How the children slept inside the stifling confines of the wagon puzzled her. At least, outside the air moved, and she enjoyed the break from care taking. Lost in thought, she trudged onward.
A horse’s snort blew moist air on her neck, and she jumped.  She gazed up into the warm brown eyes of Tom Wainright.
He doffed his hat.  “Good day, Miss Hattie.”
At the deep timbre of his voice, goose bumps peppered her arms despite the midday heat.
“Good day, Deputy.”
“It’s a mite warm to be walkin’, would you care for a ride?”
As inviting the thought of being cradled in his arms or sitting behind and hugging him might be, she was warm enough already.  Besides, she probably didn’t smell like a budding rose at the moment.
“No, thank you.” She smiled up at him. “I enjoy walking.  I don’t get much time away from the children, so this is my opportunity to reflect.”
“Oh…then I’m sorry to intrude.”
She stumbled on a stone, but kept her balance.  “N-no, you aren’t intruding.  I simply wanted to explain why I wasn’t accepting your generous offer.”
“Speaking of offers, I wonder if you might like to dine with me this evening.  I’m not much of a cook, but I can whip up some bacon and eggs, and the fellas I’m travelin’ with tell me I make a mean cup a joe.”
Her heart hitched.  She scanned the area for Billy.  Would he be upset if he saw her talking to Tom?  Probably, and that concerned her.  Then, Abby’s words echoed in her ears, reminding her Billy hadn’t actually asked for her hand. Stood to reason she wasn’t spoken for. So why did she feel so awkward?


Tabitha Shay said...

Hey Miz Ging,
Great article as always, and as always, you nail problems right where it a once avid reader, I can honestly say I never noticed how many words ended in 'ly' or if 'she was reaching' or if 'she reached.'...I just knew a damn good book when I read one. Now as an author, when I do have the time to read, I notice these things and they jerk me out of the story. I've learned a lot from you over these last few years and I'll be forever grateful. You keep on pumping out the stories and writing about problems that as authors we face daily, because enough is never enough.

Ginger Simpson said...

How humbling to have an author of your caliber claim to have learned from me. I so appreciate how you always support and praise my work, and especially the fact that you keep coming back to see what I have to say. You have no idea how much that means to me.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Wonderful article Ginger. I, too, find it difficult to read without that internal editor. I loved your excerpt. Glad Hattie is speaking to you again.

Tabitha Shay said...

Aww, that is so sweet of you to say, Miz Ging, but honestly, you taught me just about everything I know when it comes to writing and getting it right. Mistakes I make these days I have to blame on're a very wise lady, why wouldn't I return to read what you have to say? I not only enjoy your words, but always learn something new in the process. I love you, lady, you're friendship is one of the best things that have come out of my writing career. Hugs...Tabs

Diane Scott Lewis said...

I have the same problem now, Ginger. My internal editor rarely shuts up. I'm reading a book right now that is full of plot problems, but published by a major press. I keep telling myself to just read for enjoyment, nothing more.
It's very hard.
I also can't find the mistakes in my own work, but sure can in other people's work.

Anita Davison said...

Humbling? Not at all Ginger, you taught me the RUE rule and I hear your voice every time I find myself saying, 'she hobbled slowly, impeded by her long skirts' now she just hobbles and the reader has to work out why.

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