Monday, February 9, 2015

Writing is a Learning Journey - Ginger Simpson

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 a 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.  :)

2 comments:

Diane Scott Lewis said...

The book I'm reading right now published by a major publisher has one of my big pet peeves. Even when there is action with dialog, the writer constantly adds "he said" or "she said", when the action had already told me who is speaking.

Roseanne Dowell said...

Great article, Ginger. We're constantly learning. You're so right, Diane Scott, why do authors feel the need to say, he said as he slipped his arm around her. When the action tag he slipped his arm around her is all that is needed. And sometimes no action tag is needed at all. Ginger covered most of them pretty well. There are times to use those dreaded adverbs, but usually not with the words he/she said. He nodded woodenly, Pretty hard to describe that with verbs. After all adverbs are parts of our speech for a reason. But so many authors overuse them.

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