Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Back to the Edits

Wow! March already. I've got a new contest running, so check the Contest Tab above. And check out Daily Cheap Reads. WHAT'S IN A NAME? was a February Best Seller. Do you have a copy yet? Only $2.99 (click the 'books' tab for details)

Thanks to Rachel for her blogging tips. I'm guilty of rambling, even when I try to keep things short. In an effort to avoid posts that go on and on, I did manage to cut Monday's post "short" with a promise to continue.

When I closed on Monday, I pointed out that jumping from crutch word to crutch word doesn't mean you can simply hit delete. You have to check back and forth at least a few paragraphs.

For example, in my seek and destroy for 'just' (which bugs me when I find there are 208 of them, because I swear, I try not to type them at all), there are places where it's used for emphasis, or another character repeats it, and if you delete it in one place, you lose the feel for the passage. Here's why you need to look a little further. The heroine has just discovered that the hero is more than a single dad who flies rescue missions for the local fire department. She's met up with some of his covert ops teammates while they're trying to keep her safe.

This passage appears, and I debated cutting the "just": "Do you … did you … do stuff like Dalton and Ryan? With guns? Or were you just the pilot?"

But if I delete it, then the next sentence loses all meaning: He controlled the immediate reaction to 'just the pilot.'

I do tend to use the 'dialogue defense' when deciding whether or not to cull a word. If it's part of the character's speech pattern, then it's got a better chance of staying on the page. (Caveat – make sure your characters have different speech patterns so they don't all sound the same.)

Another consideration is emphasis. If you repeat a word, or phrase, it might clunk. But if you use it three times, it generally says, "I meant to do this" to the reader. So my search for "just" also uncovered this paragraph where the hero has offered to fix the heroine's washing machine:

She inhaled softly, afraid he'd notice her drinking him in. Sage, she thought. And cedar?

He hesitated, not yet dealing with the washing machine. If she turned, just a little, she'd be facing him. Then, if she lifted her head, just a little, and he dipped his head, just a little … no. Absolutely no way was that fantasy going to play out. She settled for one more deep, quiet inhale before stepping away.

Sometimes it's a matter of rewriting a sentence. In my quest to eradicate "looked" I found this:

She looked at Dylan's quivering chin and her heart melted.

Rewritten, it not only gets rid of one of those 299 variations of "look" but is stronger:

Dylan's quivering chin melted her heart.

Another thing I find when I'm hunting for those red-flag words is that often, I've stuck in an entire sentence (or more) that's really telling, and the paragraph(s) make perfect sense without them.

"Here you go, Ms. Parker," the clerk said, handing her the precious laminated card, along with a little blue envelope. "Keys are in here, and where to find your mailbox. Your mail delivery will start tomorrow."

Elizabeth gave a quick smile. "Thanks." She looked at the envelope, which explained where her box was. She recalled passing banks of mailboxes on the drive to town. So no mail carriers would show up at her door. She decided she liked that. One more layer of anonymity.

Now, I don't know where my brain was when I wrote those 2 paragraphs, but there's no need to show Elizabeth looking at the envelope, and even less to repeat what she learns when she looks at it. The clerk has already explained what it contains, and readers are smart enough to assume Elizabeth is going to look at it. So, zap. Now that paragraph will read:

Elizabeth recalled passing banks of mailboxes on the drive to town. So no mail carriers would show up at her door. She decided she liked that. One more layer of anonymity.

I chose to leave the "she decided" in there, because at this point in her character arc, she's constantly facing change, and I wanted to convey that she was thinking about her new life, where she's changed her identity. As for the smile and the thanks – those are still under consideration. They're mundane, and don't really add much. I've already shown that Elizabeth has been nervous about dealing with people, so the 'quick smile' isn't really adding anything. Readers will assume these little niceties.

Once I get through the tedium of killing a lot of crutch words, it's time to print out the manuscript and read it for story. My hint for you in that regard is to print it out in two columns, using a different font. Not only will you save a LOT of paper (I even single space, since I want to be reading this like a book), but your eye will be fooled into seeing a "new" manuscript, and entirely new things will jump out at you.

And even though I have more to say, I'll follow Rachel's advice and stop now.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've found much the same thing, Terry--my crutch words are frequently at locations where I need to make my sentence/scene stronger anyway. Nice post!

Terry Odell said...

Yes - I tend to do a lot of cutting when I find those rascals. The tighter the better.

Kim Bowman Author said...

Great post, great point. To me, it's like the dreaded "LY" words. Used for emphasis it makes the story stronger, overused it weakens the writer's voice. I'd definitely keep the Just in your example.

Terry Odell said...

Kim, thanks - I agree with both your points. :-)

Alison Henderson said...

Great post, Terry. I particularly like the "quivering chin" re-write.

Terry Odell said...

Alison - I tend to ramble on my first drafts, and even though I try to tighten as I go, I don't see a lot of these things until I tackle the overall monster.

Vonnie Davis said...

I like your idea of printing the manuscript in a different font. I think after a while, we tend to have parts of our WIP memorized. This trick makes it appear new to our eyes. Great post! Oh, and I ramble, too. ;)

Unknown said...

I love the idea of printing the ms in two columns and different fonts. In terms of over-used words, I've taken out many a 'just,' but found the place I tend to keep it is in the dialogue. Great points!

Terry Odell said...

Vonnie - even changing the font on screen can help, although I like the hard copy because it means you can physically move to a different reading environment. Step away from the computer!

Kristi - yes, dialogue has different rules.

Wynter said...

There's a reason we call them crutch words;-) It's so easy to rely on some lazy techniques!

Delaney Diamond said...

One of the last things I do before I turn over my ms to my critique partner is do a Find/Replace for the word "that." Despite making a conscious effort to limit the word's use, I'm always amazed at how many I find.

Great post!

Terry Odell said...

Wynter - yes, I seem to hobble along far too often.

Delany - "that" is another word that doesn't need to be there as often as it seems to turn up. I try reading the sentence without it, and if it works ... ZAP!

Maryannwrites said...

Great reminders and examples, Terry. Since I am such a slow learner, I always like the before and after examples. In finishing my latest book I had to do a search for hyphens and replace them with em-dashes. I was amazed at how many hyphens I had. Some needed to stay, but wow, a whole lot could go. I have no idea why I got so hyphen crazy. LOL

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - I use a LOT of hyphens. And ellipses.

Shannon said...

It's funny, 'just' is the word I over-use as well.

Terry Odell said...

Shannon - that seems to be just the way things go! :-)