Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Give Credit

Sometimes we strive so hard to find clarity that we overwrite. We write, "He got the smell of ___________ in his nostrils." Not to be a smart mouth, but where else would one get a smell?

Watch for things like "flattend it down," simply write that it was flattened. (Honestly, how would one flatten it up?)

We have to give our readers credit for being smart. It is a delicate balance not to overwrite, yet not to leave out something that results in confusing copy.

While I honestly think that one produces the best story by NOT editing while writing the first draft, I believe as strongly that editing needs to be more than proper punctuation.

A perfect way to deflate an excellent scene of showing is to tack on the end an obvious statement of telling. At times we almost can't help ourselves. We've written an emotionally charged scene, then to make sure it is understood, we explain it.

Suddenly the forward momentum we had created falls flat and the reader thinks, "Oh duh!" While that does elicit a reaction from the reader, if they are saying, "Oh duh" about us [and not something the character did] then we haven't quite edited properly.

I think a good deal of that happens when we self-edit our draft as we write. The only thing to do is to read aloud the finished first draft [for content], before worrying where the comma goes in a direct address.

Things can get muddled as we work through rewrites and focus on a paragraph, a scene, or even a sentence and we can have bits no longer fit in the big picture. I've already talked [some weeks back] about the UK book where the mother-in-law clutched her pocket book through thick and thin, only to have it drop out of the story during the arc moment and never mentioned again.

I remember one book I read in a sci-fi series. The captain was walking down a hallway toward a certain cabin on the spaceship, then was coming up the hallway. It read like a camera angle change, but really seemed that somehow she had changed direction and doubled back from the narrator.

I get a chuckle when someone has left a scene and mysteriously spoke in the conversation while they weren't present.

The point is edit carefully. Give the reader credit for knowing that people smell with their nose. Keep track of when people leave and don't let them continue talking after they have left.

Content editing can be a lot of fun, so don't get too serious with it even though it is work. Keep focused that it is about making the best story out of the first draft.

What things do you see in books that you remember long after you've forgotten the title and author?


  1. It is hard work, but I enjoy the edits.

    I remember reading about someone waiting for glass doors to slide open. The only problem was that in the previous chapter the building had a wooden one.

  2. Oh funny, Glynis. That's a good one. BTW, my email to you bounce back. Says I'm blocked. (I cried for hours!)

  3. Why are you blocked? strange. I will check it out again.