Tag Archives: revising a novel first draft

The Red Pen: Editing Another’s Manuscript – Part I

As a new year is about making resolutions, I realized there are still a couple promises from my November I.O.U. that I haven’t yet fulfilled. So let’s tie up those loose ends!

To start, I owe Milo from In Media Res 10 random things about myself, which can be found at this link (’cause you know he’d send a guy to break my legs if I didn’t make good on that).

I’d also meant to share some of my editing notes on a manuscript that shall remain anonymous, so to the extent that I can do so without giving any specifics of the story away…

On a word level, I provided a list of frequently-recurring verbs/adjectives and noted:

Would be worthwhile to scan and determine how you might replace them with synonyms here and there for variety, or possibly eliminate altogether in the event the characters’ actions and/or dialogue already convey the same idea (thereby making description redundant). They’re great words that make description vivid, but because they stand out, their repetition is less invisible.

Try to reduce use of dialogue tags to when it’s necessary for identifying the speaker. Especially avoid overly descriptive ones – show tone instead through the dialogue itself or the character’s actions. In most cases, “said” is best, as it’s invisible to the reader.

I likewise advised on minimizing adverbs and “to be” verbs—the former “tell” more than “show,” and the latter slow down pace and sound a bit more passive. Where description was concerned, the issues that stood out most were telling-versus-showing, redundancy, and certain physical descriptions that ran too specific and frequent:

While you have an effective way of threading description through dialogue, sometimes that description can be condensed together rather interrupting the flow of the dialogue multiple times. Seeking opportunities for this will enhance the pacing and snappiness of your characters’ great dialogue rather than bog it down.

Just to interject another comment on adverbs and other description accompanying dialogue – think of how certain messages/attitudes/etc. might be conveyed through the characters’ dialogue or actions for the reader to figure out rather than be told outright. [Sometimes] it can make the reader feel like a detached third-party rather than in on the action. I definitely feel pulled into this story, but teeny moments like this can sometimes remind me that I’m reading something rather than “living” it—almost like little road bumps that interrupt an otherwise smooth experience.

And it’s not always about replacing description with description—it can be taking some description away altogether.  Your characters share such witty, snappy banter, that it may at times feel appropriate to just let them talk with minimal interruption. For example, if this first sentence of the paragraph was taken away, I would still catch on to [Secondary Character]’s displeasure and coolness by virtue of his brief first sentence and shift [in dialect].

Reduce level of description for secondary characters that do not recur. This draws attention to [Secondary Character] and makes me think I should know her well, yet she never reappears later.

Sometimes these color and make/model details seem superfluous. We see [Main Character]’s truck play an important role later, but [Secondary Character] and anyone else’s vehicles don’t really matter to the story.

Then there were structural considerations on sentence, page, and chapter levels:

Consider breaking down some paragraphs with embedded dialogue […]. It creates more white space to quicken the conversation’s pace and allows the reader’s eyes to “breathe.”

[T]he description of one character embedded with another’s dialogue sometimes makes it confusing who the speaker is. Sometimes, perhaps, a description like this could skip to the next line, provided the continuing speaker is tagged.

To enhance flow, perhaps join these two [simple] sentences using a semicolon or conjunction.

Section break to accentuate passage of time and shift of focus to [another character].

Basically, I proposed many paragraph breaks to not only help break up clunkier sections, but also separate dialogue from descriptions that didn’t correspond with it. My suggested section breaks not only helped to denote shifts, but also provide a breathable white space and prevent a chapter from becoming the structural equivalent of a run-on sentence. And in a couple cases, I recommended converting a section break to a chapter break—in the case of the very first chapter, doing such preserved the opening momentum as the second section was rather lengthy.

Such are just a few examples, but what all the edits peppering that manuscript boil down to is clarity and consistency.

This has gotten long, so I’ll save my two pence on the more developmental edits I made for tomorrow. Ta!

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Serving My Fur-Balls up on a Platter

Or at least my brain and heart

You see, the Monkey is having difficulty throwing its own poop today.

Why?

Because it’s a difficult if not impossible action to undertake when one has scared oneself shitless.

Why?

Because I’m setting myself up for the first in a series of rejections on my manuscript this week, at long last. Isn’t that exciting?! It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for!

In all honesty, it does feel really good to finally be at this stage (or deluding myself that I’m ready for this stage). I’m certainly no diva who is staring down my novel and basking in its perfection…but I know I’m past my “Fraying at the End” point and have reached instead where I’ve read it over and revised so many times, walked away from it a while, walked back to it and read it over and revised so many times more that I personally am quite satisfied and happy with it. Yet I humbly also think it’s as far as I can take it myself until it falls in someone‘s nurturing hands, whether it’s actually picked up by an agent or publisher (dare I even think it?!) or me shelling out the cash for an editing service should I go the route of self-publication. My lovely beta-reader was tremendously helpful as I shaped up the early drafts, so if it meets with rampant rejection in its current form, she’ll surely be called back in for more consultation :). I once feared someone else’s suggestions would make the story less than my own. But through the beta-reading process and now developmentally editing another’s work for publication, I’ve come to see how nice-n-polished-n-perdy a tale can become from this outside input (my recently published sister likened it to a “spa treatment” for her novel). Not that I’m expecting to get any sort of feedback through the submission process. I know I won’t…

This is a rather vulnerable stage, isn’t it…in some way empowering, yet also feeling like sending one’s child off to school for the first time…*sniff* *sniff*…or to the gallows ;)…

I’m going to give my mind a little break on this for a bit, as I’ve written and revised to blindness, and rather than dwell on the negativity my Inner Critical Beeyotch may eventually spew, what I know right now is that my manuscript in its present incarnation passes the test I’ve had for it all along:

Is it the story I wanted to write? Check.

Is it a story I would want to read? Check.

Did I enjoy the process? Check.

Does it reflect who I am as a person and a writer? Check & Check.

Is it something I’m committed to strengthening further down the road for the sake of its own existence as its best self? Check.

Started during my first months living in London and spanning the two years I’ve lived here so far, there’s a lot in this work that encapsulates my own experiences and observations (hence, my “From Sentiments to Sentences” posts), so at the very least it will be a special little time machine for me take a spin in when nostalgic in the future.

Beyond this, I reckon it’ll be time to bring my blog back to its origins for a little while—i.e., belching out the randomness of my mind in response to short writing prompts. I’d originally started the blog to do just that as, at the time, I was caught in a writer’s block. Well, at this point, I think the creative rescuscitation will do me good in not only eventually revisiting this first manuscript and getting rolling with that second novel idea that’s been flitting about in the cobwebby corners of my cranium, but also, quite simply, writing for writing’s sake.

Those prompts could be just the laxative the Monkey needs to keep my throwin’ arm warmed up, after all…


The Manuscript Manicure – Part II: Micro-Editing

All-righty, finally back with my next installment on editing a manuscript (refer to Part I if you missed it). Once again, this is all thanks to the ladies at Room to Write for sharing insights that might be new to you or least validating of what you already know. Nothing compares to that face-to-face conversation, but I love the interaction that occurs between writers online via blogs. As they said at the workshop, there is so much to be learned beyond our own work, after all—it’s as important to listen to and learn from the projects and experiences of others.

It also teaches us to peel back our skin and not be overly protective of our work. I had to laugh when author Wendy Robertson spoke on all the emotional loading that goes into the critique when we offer it to others for feedback; she said something to the effect that when we give our work to someone else:

“You’re giving your critiquer the power to upset you.”

Ain’t it the truth. Perhaps this is why when I sent the full edit of my first assigned manuscript to its author this afternoon, I cushioned my email with empathy and compliments of everything that was done well, hoping she’ll receive my suggestions for improvement in stride and be willing to work with me constructively.

Anyway, when it comes editing for ourselves, remember that we must become self-conscious of who we are as a writer and what it is we want to achieve. To do that best, we need to identify our style and describe it in a few words. If you read 50 pages of your own novel, what comes across on the page? Is your style spare, lyrical, conversational, whimsical, direct, abstract (to offer a few), or combination of more than one?

We are now shifting from macro-editingto micro-editing and need to explore our style in relation to our content:

– I mentioned the “shape” of the novel last time, which relates to your story arc. This might continually ascend like a surging wave or start thin (yet interesting) and thicken in density to an explosive climax—Wendy likened this to the body of a whale, with the tail being the interesting opening and the blow-hole the climax. Or maybe your chapters are individual stories unto themselves that link together in some way to provide continuity and relevance, like a chain with a large loop toward the end where this progression culminates into the climax (Blackbird House is an example of this shape).

Shapes can vary, but there should always be conflict (tension), climax (crisis), surprise and revelation. And from a micro-editing standpoint, this needs to apply to each of your individual chapters as well.

– Speaking of chapters, as mentioned last time, ensure there’s continuity between them, yes, but also within them on a paragraph-to-paragraph, sentence-to-sentence level.

– With continuity maintaining our story’s consistency and logical progression, we must also make sure the words and sentences flow. This concerns the musicality of the language itself, and the best way to determine this is to read it aloud so you hear it.

– Your musicality and style will be greatly impacted by your sentence construction, so evaluate your writing on a sentence-by-sentence level. Is the syntax effective? Does it flow? Does it make sense? It’s important to ensure you’re applying correct grammatical conventions through punctuation and arrangement of clauses. Use commas, semicolons, and colons for sentence variety and make sure they’re used correctly.

Of course, creative writing allows for creative departure from conventions as well, but make sure that if you do deviate from the rules, there’s a specific purpose for it that strengthens what you’re trying to say. If it’s not producing the intended effect, revisit it and, all else fails, run with the convention rather than muddle your ideas in unclear writing.

– The language you use is the building block for everything, so you need to evaluate your writing on a word-by-word level as well. Make every word count, the strongest choice it could be (English in particular is too word-rich to not take advantage of it!). And obviously don’t allow excessive repetition, incorrect/inappropriate use, or incorrect spelling distract and otherwise undermine your writing.

– The “look” of the page is important as well, so ensure ample inclusion of “white space” now and then to allow your reader’s eyes to “breathe.” This is usually achieved through dialogue that isn’t overly bogged down in paragraphs of description. Section breaks provide white space as well to help accentuate shifts in time/setting.

And if you’re cutting down for word count or tightening, rather than prune on a word/phrase level, they seemed to opt for removing whole chunks, if not lifting an entire chapter to see if the story even misses it. I would suffer some major separation anxiety in that case, but I know some of you have said in your blogs that you’ve done it and lived to tell the tale. And it might not be a matter of ridding of it entirely. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying:

“Don’t throw your babies out with the bathwater.”

Well, they warned us of this as well, and it’s actually why they cautioned not to overly prune on a word/phrase level—making our sentences sparser could deprive the story of some of its joy! And even lifting an entire chapter may just be a structural change by which you drop it into a different place in your manuscript. (Now that I have done, and it works so much better!) At any rate, they said:

“If you kill your darlings, don’t put them in the bin—save them for something else!”

Another novel, a short story, a poem, who knows?!

All right, folks, if I haven’t successfully made your eyeballs roll out with all this reading by now, keep them sucked into those sockets—I’ll be back with a little bit on what they had to say about manuscript formatting, publishers, and self-promotion.

PART I Macro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing


The Manuscript Manicure – Part I: Macro-Editing

Hiya! I’m back to redeem that I.O.U. I gave you last week. See, my word’s good as gold ;)…

As I mentioned, I attended a writing workshop with Room to Write over the weekend that was geared toward prepping a novel manuscript for submission. The full-day conference was divided into two primary parts—Editing and Publication—the first of which I’ll address in part now and break the rest down into separate posts. But, first, I’ll start with some general notes I jotted along the way to get us in the proper mindset:

One thing they stressed is that, above all:

“Editing is a creative process.”

Yes, it involves the nitty-gritty technical stuff, but we’re not merely playing the role of English teacher grading for grammar with red pen in hand—revising our work requires every bit of imagination and innovative thought as writing our initial draft does. For as they said, when the first draft is finished:

“You’re only just beginning.”

Ah yes, it does feel that way doesn’t it…my question is, when the hell does it end???

Anyway, in order to become our own editor, we have to become a “self-conscious” one. No, not as in insecurity-ridden—I think I’ve already mastered that one just fine :). What they mean is to be conscious of the kind of writer we are and the audience we’re writing for. The better aware we are of this, the better  we’ll be able to edit our work with this focus in mind.

Macro-editing is concerned with the overall  novel as a cohesive work. It’s our opportunity to step back from our first draft and contemplate whether it has achieved what we wanted it to and is structured effectively. They encouraged us to print a hardcopy of the manuscript to initiate this stage, as reading your words on the page is truly a different experience from reading them on screen. (I wouldn’t have expected this, but wow. There’s so much more that I catch with that ms in hand.) You will also want to list your themes, summarize your entire book in three sentences, and keep these with you as you journey back through your text to ensure you aren’t straying from any critical elements.

Key aspects your self-conscious-editing self should look for (not only in the novel as a whole, but in every chapter and scene as well) are:

– A compelling beginning, a hook that makes the reader want to continue. The first chapter in particular should be compelling in an action sense, but also in a literary way—it needs to be beautifully written. Subsequent chapters likewise need their own hooks and should be varied in how they start (i.e., beginning with dialogue, beginning in the middle of action, etc.)

– Action, drama, or “trouble,” as they called it.

– Appropriate pacing.

Three-dimensional characters that are brought to life and desire something;

— Characters are “thinly veiled versions of the writer” (sound familiar?), but we must immediately establish distinction between them and from ourselves if they are to appear as separate people; if they’re all clones of us, then they’re clones of each other.
— If you can “see” the character in your mind (consider gathering clippings from magazines and such for reference), then they will come across on the page.
– Provide physical descriptions of your three main characters, enough to help visualize their traits, but not full-bodied detail. Leave something to your readers’ imagination.
— Characters should be consistent from start to finish (i.e., if you reveal or yourself learn something new about them later in the novel, are these traits present at the beginning as well? If not, try to introduce them at least subtly).
— We should see growth in the main character.

– Clear sense of when and where each scene partakes.

– Long sections of description/exposition that could be cut.

Changing up the writing between exposition, narrative, and dialogue.

– A sense of atmosphere and appeal to the senses that lends texture.

– Something in each chapter that surprises the reader.

Continuity between scenes and chapters; ensure nothing is missing.

– Evaluate the “shape” of your novel/chapter in terms of story arc. Shapes can vary, but there should in general be a rising sense of action/conflict until the climax, then a dip toward resolution (so check for any sagging in the middle).

– Evaluate the ending and ensure a sense of resolution. They advised us to look at six novels we personally enjoy and look at their endings as a guide for managing this successfully. They also admitted that, in the interest of keeping your ending brief (the resolution should just be a “flick” after the climax) as well as ensuring your reader understands what has happened, the resolution may indeed warrant more telling than showing.

Throughout your macro-editing assessment, then, you will want to sit back and assess whether this is the story you wanted to write in the first place. I suppose it doesn’t hurt if ends up morphing into something even cooler than you thought it could be, but if it seems to fall short in some way, pinpoint where it diverges and contemplate how to get it back on track. Another very important point to consider outside of yourself is if it is the story your reader will want to read—how will they experience it?

I’d better cut this off here until my next installment. Many thanks to author Avril Joy for guiding us through this session of the workshop! More to come…

PART II Micro-editing

PART III – Submitting a Manuscript

PART IV – On Publishers & Publicizing


I.O.U. – Going, Going, Gone Until Next Week

Writing a blog post here to tell you what I’m going to write in blog posts next week. Why do something so asinine? Because I’m shorter on time than I’d like to be today, and after my previous lapse in blogging, I really wanted to get a post in this week to represent, yo.

What I was going to write about this week (and will now have to next week) was the beginning of my editing process on someone else’s manuscript now that I’ve received my first assignment as freelance developmental editor. I respectfully will refrain from discussing this author’s specific plot and leave it purely to the general suggestions I’ve noted that are likewise duly filed away in me noggin for my own manuscript (and may be useful for yours).

Which brings me to another topic I was going to write about…my manuscript status. Not super interesting at this stage, other than I’ve had it printed and bound as-is to whisk away to the English countryside for another workshop with the Room to Write organization I met in March. This is the first time I’ve seen those words in print, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t catch a typo and sentences begging to be cut on first cracking it open. It’ll never end will it…Ah well, the focus of the workshop is manuscript revision and submission, so it’s just as well that mine is still a work-in-progress.

Which brings me to what I was going to write about next week anyway: the workshop. I promise to share what insights I take away from it (and I can cram an extra scone in my pocket for ya if you’d like).

Ah, and in catching up on some of your blogs, I see that I’m going to fulfill the reqs of receiving the “Honest Scrap” award from Milo James Fowler over at the always-enjoyable In Media Res blog. Thank you, Milo! So now next week in addition to the usual fur balls, I’ll be coughing up 10 random things about myself.

Until then, I owe ya…Happy Weekend, everyone!


Monkeys in My Tree

Just a quickie, folks, to notify that the wacky monkeys I descended from (a.k.a., Mom & Dad) have swung from a loooong vine across the Atlantic ocean to visit me.  We’ve just returned from a delightful weekend in the Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon and are recovering from a not-so-delightful extended train ride back to London last night—our train hit someone on the tracks, the poor soul :(…Then tomorrow we’re off to rrrrOMA! for a few days.

Hopefully I’m not wearing the poor Ps out already; we’d had to flee town for this past weekend already because my genius husband and I managed to dumb-ass double-book ourselves, so a couple of our friends flew in from Italy last Wednesday before my parents arrived from Chicago the following morning.  Our wee abode officially bursting beyond capacity, I chose to head for the hills (or the “wolds,” I should say) to give everyone a bit of breathing room.  Since our first guests arrived in March of 2009, this is the 17th round of guests that we’ve hosted in London.  Not counting parental repeats, 30 different people have rested their heads at what we’ve long been calling the B&B.  I should’ve bought a guestbook from the getgo had I any freaking idea how many people would suddenly come out of the woodwork and want to stay with us once we moved somewhere cool.  I think our next home had better be in Nebraska.

Anyways, all whingeing aside, I’m having the best time with my parents, and I’m giddy because my Dear Reader has been emailing back her second round of feedback on my manuscript ending.  I’ve got some work cut out for me on that, but I’m so excited to revisit it and make it the strongest version of itself.  I have a November workshop on manuscript submission as my deadline for getting things as polished and perdy as can be :).

In the meantime, as long as my tree here continues to be occupied and me swinging hither and yon as Hostess with the Mostess, I’ll be out of commission in the blogosphere for several more days.  I shall miss you and your wonderful insights until then—*mwah*!!


The Soundscape of a Novel

“The making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art…First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.  This is a delicate thing.” —High Fidelity


*sigh*…the Mix Tape.  How I remember practicing that delicate art in high school and college…mostly, I made tapes for myself (hey, you have to love yourself before you can love someone else :)), but I can think of at least one I made for a boy…*blush*. I didn’t need to read or see High Fidelity first to innately understand the delicacy in balancing out those tracks—it’s a lot like writing, really, in that you need to start out with an attention-getter and then try to avoid redundancy in carefully pacing yourself through the highs and lows of fast and slow. The words should carry meaning, and you need to establish mood and tone.

But I didn’t necessarily adhere to all those rules this time.

You see, as I try to hold my anxiety at bay while the last 15,000 words of my manuscript rest in my trusted Reader’s hands for review and feedback, I’ve been playing around with giving my novel a soundtrack, as inspired by the Milk Fever Blog post, “The Soundtrack.” The preliminary playlist that I’ve compiled is in order of story progression, not the sacred aesthetic rules of the Mix Tape as referenced above. Basically, I thought through the themes and atmosphere of my key scenes, as well as any songs specifically referenced in the text, and have listed the songs as these elements appear.  Though humor keeps some of my scenes relatively light, needless to say my protagonist undergoes some pretty crazy stuff that just doesn’t warrant many feel-good tunes.

At any rate, I bring you “Monkey Manuscript: The Musical”—ta da!  You can access this first-pass playlist for my as-yet-untitled manuscript online by clicking the image (a painting I only just stumbled on today that is strikingly in keeping with my tale’s motifs, so would make ideal cover art). Titles and artists are also listed below:

 

"Ophelia," by Leah Piken Kolidas (www.bluetreeartgallery.com)

 

The “Untitled” Soundtrack:

The Ghost in You – Pscychedelic Furs

We Are All Made of Stars – Moby

Charlotte Sometimes – The Cure

Dreams Never End – New Order

The Fear – Lily Allen

Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant

10:15 Saturday Night – The Cure

Cemetry Gates – The Smiths

Peace and Hate – The Submarines

Sexy Boy – Air

Dead Souls – Joy Division

Shiver – Coldplay

Start to Melt – Peter Bjorn and John

She’s Lost Control – Joy Division

Where is My Mind? – The Pixies

All Cats Are Grey – The Cure

Black Mirror – Arcade Fire

Cold Hands (Warm Heart) – Brendan Benson

Quick, Painless and Easy – Ivy

Last Goodbye – Jeff Buckley

Slow Life – Grizzly Bear

Edge of the Ocean – Ivy


Revisal of the Shittest

“I believe imagination is like a Darwinian system.”

sock monkey image from cthulhufhtagn.deviantart.com

In the above quotation from the novel Sophie’s World (which I finally got through a week ago), Alberto Knox—the story’s philosopher—discusses with Sophie the nature of creativity and how it follows the natural selection of Darwinism:

“Thought-mutants occur in the consciousness one after the other, at least if we refrain from censoring ourselves too much.  But only some of these thoughts can be used.  Here, reason comes into its own.  It, too, has a vital function.  When the day’s catch is laid on the table we must not forget to be selective.”

Oh, that Alberto and his way with analogies…sorry, can’t help being sarcastic toward this book. Disregarding the tremendous education on philosophy it provides (which in itself is good reason to read the novel, and I’m glad that I did), it’s the fictional aspect of the plot that pricked into my skin like so many fleas in my fur. An interesting attempt to provide an entertaining means of digesting large concepts and history, the fictitious story line that distinguishes this as a “novel” versus “textbook” fell a little flat for me. The dialogue was unbelievably forced (most of Sophie’s comments/questions simply served as breaks or segues in the long lectures), and though it takes an interesting twist mid-way through, the characters and thin plot just didn’t endear themselves. Quite frankly, I found Sophie to be a precocious little twit. But I digress…

In any case, what he’s getting at here is that imagination generates the ideas, but reason weeds out the “mutants” and selects the best ones to carry on.  The plot twist in the book also ushered in some self-reflexive commentary on writing and the manipulative power the writer has over those ideas, settings, and characters in his/her charge. As far as the creative process in general, Alberto continues to say (with another analogy in practically the same breath as the first…):

“Maybe the imagination creates what is new, but the imagination does not make the actual selection.  The imagination does not ‘compose.’ A composition—and every work of art is one—is created in a wondrous interplay between imagination and reason, or between mind and reflection.  For there will always be an element of chance in the creative process.  You have to turn the sheep loose before you can start to herd them.”

This “wondrous interplay” is what laboriously polishes our inspired first drafts into final manuscripts. It’s what also keeps us in check so we don’t overly pillage our paragraphs of the words and thoughts that breathe soul into them; all too often, reason defeats imagination when there should instead be a balance of power.

Unlike the negligent Dr. Frankenstein, however, we do need to be mindful of what we bring into being. Our stories inspire us, they speak to us, they surprise us, yes, but they also rely on us to nurture and shape them, to help find a suitable place in the world for them. It’s still essential to follow the writing rules so we don’t feed our stories after midnight or get them wet, thereby leaving the sweet Mogwais of our imagination to metamorphose into Gremlins of loose redundancy and holes. That said, I don’t mean to be harsh on our uncensored minds, and perhaps my title isn’t fair in calling our first drafts “shit”…but far be it from me to pass up a good rhyme, and, anyways, sometimes they just really are ;).  (I think Sophie’s World, for example, might’ve benefited from another read-through…)

Serendipitously, at the same time as I’d read the chapter quoted here and mulled over this intellectual tightrope, Tahlia (author of Lethal Inheritance who blogs on the site of same name) posted “Do we write a story or uncover it?“—here, she asks how much we write using our rational intellect versus not thinking and just going with the flow.  It seems we universally tread this fine line, leaving us with this:  To think or not to think…that is the question when it comes to the evolution of our story.


The Telltale Taboos

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” – Mark Twain

The revision continues, so this is just a quickie.  That’s right, I’m gonna just love ya then leave ya, blog-slut that I am…

I’ve done a once-over combing through my manuscript and trimmed out a few thousand words so far.  As I still contemplate how I’m going to tweak that damn ending—sorry, I mean “very” ending—no, I mean “damn” ending—no, I mean just “ending,” period ;)—I’m approaching another wave.  But before I do another complete read-through, I’m strategically using my Word application’s “Find” tool to seek out and evaluate the use of a few common culprits that threaten to weaken our writing.

While there are many ways to slice-and-dice revision (including eliminating those adverbs and “to be” verbs), here’s a sample of overused, taboo words to check for in your manuscript as a quick-fix:

very

always

really

when

then

that

suddenly

just

began / started (With these, don’t use it if whatever is “beginning/starting” doesn’t stop before the action is carried out. Oh my gaawwd, I can’t believe how many ‘began’s I’ve found…naughty Monkey!)

For what that’s worth.  It’s not to say we shouldn’t use these words at all, just not overly so—it’s worth a scan to become cognizant of our usage and determine whether there isn’t a more direct, active means of engaging our reader through other word choices/sentence structure.

Also [I’m adding this retroactively in response to Sharmon’s good point in the comment below], I personally reduced those words in my 3rd-person narration, but left most of them in my dialogue, as those words are likely overused in our writing because they’re what we use often when we speak!  So, it’s arguable from that standpoint that they contribute toward authentic dialogue, no?

What words would you add to the list?

[As an aside, can’t help but share that the Mark Twain quotation reminds me of a time from my consulting days when the guy in the cubicle across from mine started swearing, walked away, then promptly returned with a colleague.  “Fix it,” he said to the guy, pointing at his computer.  Our friend/coworker giggled as he did so.  Afterwards, I learned that the guy had tampered with my cubicle-mate’s Word settings such that every time he typed the word “the” in his client report, it auto-corrected to, well, a term for male genitalia.  Ah, Finance wasn’t always so boring…]


Procrastination Potpourri


The good news: I’ve been slacking on my blog because I’ve cranked up the work on my manuscript.

The bad news: I’ve been slacking on my blog.  Which means neglect of your blogs as well as mine.  Please hang in there with me!  I value so much what I take away from your blogs and comments, so I wouldn’t dare stay away for long; I’m just not the most consistent right now.

To make up for the Monkey imitating a Sloth again, I’ve got a wee smorgasbord of miscellany today.  First off, I am super pleased to say I’ve been productive in slashing word count and getting closer to revamping that ending that I just haven’t been thrilled with for a while.  I have also finished writing the secondary story that interweaves with my main plot, which is much briefer in scale, but had yet to transfer from me noggin to the written word.  That was such a treat to work on for a change in voice, characters, and situation.

But enough about that.  I don’t know how I manage to get on all these freaking email lists, but one lil’ nugget delivered to my Inbox recently was promoting a new book titled Getting Published.  While that highly obscure title hardly clarifies what the text might be about, I thought perhaps I’d pass it on to the blogosphere in the rare event it ends up being somewhat relevant to writing and getting that writing published…ya think?  Actually, now that I think about it, I’m lying…1) I do remember how I got on this mailing list, having emailed an enquiry to the Writers Workshop once over a year ago, and 2) despite that evasive title, I might have some glimmering of an idea as to what the book’s about, as quoth the author:

At the moment, there’s nothing on the market that tells a budding writer what they need to know about the industry. How to select agents, how to engage with agents, what a book deal looks like, what the financial issues are, what the (multitudinous) publishing issues are.

Because agents don’t tell you this either – and nor will your publisher – plenty of ‘professional’ authors are ill-informed about the industry from which they hope to eke a living. I’ve tried my level best to make this the most comprehensive and truthful book of its kind, and I very much hope you like it.

A&C Black have generously agreed to place significant chunks of the book online, so you can get a feel for the book before deciding whether to buy it. We’ve put a full listing of those extracts here. The nice people at A&C Black have also managed to secure a 25% off promotion from Amazon, so if you want to buy the book there, please make my day.

Despite my devoting a sizable chunk of this post to it, I honestly have no insider knowledge on this publication and whether it will deliver what it promises or not, but no harm in sharing.

And, oh, but wait!  There is MORE good news!  Utterly lovely blog awards and recognition.  So a *mwah* and *mwah* to Ollin for the recent blog tag and Milo for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Per the responsibilities attached to the game-o-Blog Tag, my responses follow—and I’ll make this a twofer by tagging AND awarding the Versatile Blogger Award to the 6 bloggers listed below:

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?

I would be able to hyper-space anywhere, any time, within seconds. Given my volume of travel, I am getting reeeallly sick of airports and commuting to/from them.  I would also love to pop into my parents’ house across the ocean every time I’m thinking of them and wanna give them a hug.

2. Who is your style icon?

classic: Audrey Hepburn
contemporary: Gwyneth Paltrow
[and, okay—if I cared to get dolled up each day—Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character Melinda Gordon on Ghost Whisperer :)]

3. What is your favorite quote?

Toss-up between:

“So long as books are open, minds can never be closed” – Ronald Reagan
“Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

Well, for as satisfying as it was when my non-domestic self finally learned to cook and my husband said I’d gone from “zero to hero” in the kitchen, I’d probably have to go with all the folks who have told me over the years that I’m a good writer.  That gave me the boost I needed to start believing in that for myself and work even harder to become a better writer.

5. What playlist/cd is in your CD player/iPod right now?

This minute, I’m leaving it to the artificial intelligence of my iTunes’ “Indie Rock” Genius Mix.  It kicked off with Joy Division and is presently playing The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates.”

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?

Oh, without doubt I am a child of the night.  Left to my own devices these days, I’m always awake into the wee hours of the morning writing/revising or curling up with a good book or flick.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?

As I have confessed in a previous blog award acceptance speech:

“Although I love animals (I am, after all, a monkey), I am not a pet person. At all. But if I had to align myself with either the infamous Dog People or Cat People in a finger-snapping gang face-off of “West Side Story” proportions, I would probably go Cat.”

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

It dates back to a joke my older brother told me when I was little kid…it had me rolling on the ground for at least a half-hour, howling, and to this day makes me giggle to tears.  I usually resist telling it, as not everyone may find it remotely funny and, moreover, find it disturbing that I do ;).

And now for the tag/awardees:

NickiNicki Elson’s Not-So-Deep Thoughts

EvaWrite in Berlin

CourtneyBurn Your Diary

Cities of the Mind

Agatha – Here Be Dragons (who has already been tagged, but is now awarded)

Milo – In Media Res (who has already been awarded, but is now tagged)

*   *   *   *   *

All right, then.  I’m offline for the rest of today, but am hankering to return to my writing prompts soon, so keep an ear peeled for my next screech.


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