Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hack, Slash and Tighten - Taking a Machete to My Writing

Yes, that would be me, ready to hack and slash.
I'm in the midst of a huge edit right now. In fact, I decided to slash 20%-25% off my word count. Some of it because I simply needed to lower the word count, some because it just needed to be done to make the writing better.

Editing is always better if we can identify our own tendencies and problems in our writing. I do wonder what others have identified in their writing because usually it's probably something I do too, only I'm not aware of it yet.

I'll start - my three worst offenses in writing:

1) One of my worst habits in writing, I think, is repetitiveness of both concepts and words:
  • I tend to repeat the same idea like: you have to die, i don't want to die, but you have to, but i really don't want to. Okay, okay, we got the message the first five times I'd written it.
  • I also tend to repeat adjectives and synonyms - she was a courageous woman, strong, powerful and tough. The problem here is that I tend to fall in love with sentences like that: Oh, but Melly, you practically used all the words in the thesaurus to describe X's 'strong' attributes; you're so clever. (Heck, even the title of this post is the same).
2) Another problem of mine is my tendency to slow down the action with long descriptions in between the action/dialogue. I can't even give an example here because it'd be too long. Suffice to say that too much musing and paying attention to surroundings Kills a fast pace scene.

3) Finally, my tendency to overuse adverbs. By definition almost, adverbs are unnecessary. What are adverbs if not parts of speech that modify verbs? And what are verbs if not actions already? So why modify them? Naturally, it is all case dependent, but most times adverbs are a form of repetition. For example, X quietly tiptoed around the house, should be X tiptoed around the house. Tiptoeing is already quiet!

Yes, yes, adverbs also modify adjectives and other adverbs, but I'm talking here about my tendencies of modifying verbs.

What I'm glad is that at this point I know my weaknesses and usually manage to take them out during the writing process, yet they still manage to sneak in. However, since I'm aware of them, the editing process becomes somewhat easier.

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19 comments:

down_not_out said...

Ummm. Yes. A difficult challenge but one I am sure you will conquer. I love Twain's saying, "Kill your darlings." Indeed. Kill your darlings, darlin'.

Flood said...

I have the same problems as you listed. During action however, I tangle myself up. I re-create and try to get each movement down so it sounds plausible. This weekend, I had my husband strangle me to see if that could happen without arms extended. (The answer is yes,BTW.)

I end up writing all these ridiculous details in movement that the reader could likely figure out for themselves. ('He moved. Then she fell, on her back, to the ground. The he stood above her. She writhed in defiance. He crouched his body...etc etc.' Just kill her already.)

Good luck with the edit. It *is* easier when you know what kind of problems you are looking for.

Melly said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Rhiannon and it's encouraging to know some writers have managed to smooth out all their kinks :)

Goodness, Flood. I'd never tempt my husband with such a request ;)
Well... you can't get rid of all your movement/action now, can you? I say, let her writhe!

fred charles said...

I have been known to take the old axe to my work on many occasions. I tend to find a bit of repetition in my work. It can be hard to weed it out of a large novel.

I usually need to work on my detail as well.

One of the first things that I learned about writing was not to use too many adverbs so I never fell into the habit of using them.

Jennifer said...

Oh Melly! If I got at your piece you'd lose every adverb! (okay, well almost every one).

I'm the anti-adverb queen. The first piece I ever wrote was FULL of adverbs. I had someone sit down and work thru every sentence with me and reword without the adverb and I couldn't believe the differenc in the piece. From that point on I stopped using adverbs. I'm not sure how, I just totally stopped. (no slowly weeding--just complete stop of use of them).

Too this day adverbs drive me nuts. Especially when they're paired with an action (as in your example). That's the best way to annoy me (in case you ever feel like torturing me :D)

As for repetitiveness, you're not the only one. I constantly repeat without meaning too. That's what editting is for!

As for me: (NORMALLY) I have too much dialogue. Though I have to say I've worked REALLY hard on fixing this and I'm getting better. But I used to write passages of ALL dialogue and there'd be no setting...no introduction. It's as if I'd make the reader jump into a cold pool without first letting them stick their toe in and get used to the temperature. Granted sometimes it works, but most of the time it left the reader totally disoriented and a bit lost.

Also I have to watch myself with 'weedy' words and 'hedging' words.

Oh and one last thing on adverbs...I still tend to avoid them even when they modify adjectives. I just don't like adverbs :D Unless the sentence can't be written any other way...I don't use the adverb.

Oh! I have a problem with the word finally :P in my own writing. I usually chop them out by the time I get to editting.

Okay I'll shut up now. Didn't mean to go on forever and ever.

Jennifer said...

Oh! And negatives!

The cave was dark.
The cave was not light.

Now which one sounds better!?! The first OBVIOUSLY. But I'll still write the negative sentence.

Flood said...

I thought of something else. I tend to write dialogue without contractions. "I am sad. It is nice. You are crazy." It can sound robotic.

(I am writing right now and watching for traps as they come up)

Melly said...

Fred, you're really lucky about the adverbs. And repetition can be a real b**ch!

Jennifer, you too. So lucky. What is it about you guys??? Unbelievable! :)
As for you dialogue "problem". That's an interesting one. I believe I haven't heard of that before. Usually, it's too much setting.
FINALLY, let me just say, that your comment was NOT short! :-)

Flood, I can't believe it. I do that too. But usually on purpose. Instead of putting italics, I'd use this trick. Like instead of writing this:
"It isn't me, it's him."
I'd write this:
"It is not me, it's him."
Well, maybe not a great example, but what do you think?

Benjamin Solah said...

Melly, I have all three of your problems too, but I didn't really highlight notice the second until I read it here.

Flood, I have the problem with overcomplicating description, because I'm worried the reader won't understand what I'm talking about.

All this equates to a crap situation with pacing. I need to take a page out of my flash fiction book, I think.

Deborah said...

The problems I have are sentence repetition and detail. I have too much of the first and not enough of the second.

Melly said...

Oh, Benjamin, you know what they say, misery loves company, so in this case, our shared problems... I don't know where I'm going with this :) I'm laughing my *** off how inarticulate I can be even in comments :)

Deborah, wouldn't it be great if it were reverse?

Flood said...

Melly your example works. I'm reading it as though the speaker is emphasising the negative point and then going more informal with an accusation or assessment.

Without the caps, it reads to me like this:
"It IS NOT me; it's HIM"

The 'not' becomes the emphasis of the first sentence. Right?

Melly said...

That's the general intention, yup.

Patry Francis said...

I learned how repetitive my words get when I was copyedited. Now I keep hearing her correction in my head: Echo! Great post, Melly.

Deborah said...

Deborah, wouldn't it be great if it were reverse?

Yes, it would. It's much easier to trim detail than to rewrite paragraphs.

Melly said...

Thanks Patry.
I guess that your copyeditor's echoing word are a symbol of echoing repetitiveness...
Sorry, I need coffeeeeee

Yes, indeed. I dislike rewrites!

Sharon J said...

Adjectives are one of my biggest pet hates. I recently read a book where just about every piece of dialogue was followed by some kind of adjective. "he said, bitingly" - "she answered, pleasantly" - "he quipped, humorously" - "she replied, menacingly". Need I go on? I threw the book out of the window before I was even half way through.

Sharon J said...

Adjective? Sorry, head's falling off today. You know what I mean!

Melly said...

Sharon, go have a coffee now! That's an order!
Yes, of course I know what you mean. LOL. At least you made me smile :)

Too many of quipped and replied would already have made me throw that book out the winda.