Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Five Essential Self-Editing Steps

1. Search for the word “was” and eliminate it. The word crops up in two ways, both negative: passive voice and tell vs. show. I thought I had been careful when I produced the first draft of The Trophy Wife, but found almost 400 instances of the word when I did my first search. I eliminated “was” and “wasn’t” for days until only three remained, all in the same sentence. The sentence is at the end of the following paragraph, and if anyone can tell me how to get rid of these three, I’ll have a document free of “was” and “wasn’t:”

“Miss Havana slowly shook her head as she surveyed the interior of the bar. She liked to party at upper-class dance clubs with lots of neon palm trees and a lively band—places where a beautiful woman could dance all night, drink for free and meet men of means when the mood moved her. She sighed. This wasn’t one of those places, Jackson wasn’t one of those men and she wasn’t in the mood.”

Please review http://www.solsticepublishing.com/writers/4-dos-and-donts-of-show-dont-tell/ to see how “was” contributes to “tell vs. show.” Every example involves the word “was.” The word also contributes to passive voice when combined with a gerund (“ing word”). Instead of was walking, use walked. Removal of “was” in association with passive voice is relatively easy. Removal of “was” associated with tell vs. show can be a challenge.

2. Search on the word “were” and eliminate it … for the same reasons given above.

3. Search on the word “felt.” It is easy to say “Miss Havana felt ill,” but that is telling. If you used the word “felt,” then you are telling. You need to eliminate that.

4. Search on the word “eyes.” I read a blog recently (and wish now I had saved the reference) about eyes doing strange things, like bulging out and running across the floor. Impossible physical actions should not be attributed to eyes. They can’t run around on their own. Another issue with “eyes” is repetition. If you use the same phrase over and over, like “she looked him in the eyes,” something needs to change. Repetition is bad.

5. Remove adverbs where you can. Dr. Yoman suggests better descriptions of speech actions helps in this regard. He says, “These have the added merit of helping us to avoid tedious repetitions like ‘she said’ / ‘he replied’ that make a story read like a ping pong match. They also eliminate the need for adverbs, the sign of an amateur.

‘She whispered softly’ becomes ‘I strained to hear her.’ Likewise, ‘He said, gruffly’ might be ‘His words sounded like gravel in a cement mixer.’ ‘She lisped, delightfully’: ‘I heard the wings of an angel, flying low.’ ‘He replied, angrily’: ‘His voice was broken glass.’ ‘She said, in a beautiful voice’: ‘Her voice reminded me of summer nights in old Castilia.’

And here’s a bonus tip. The first few paragraphs of the story must grab the attention of the reader. I have tried to make the first three paragraphs of The Trophy Wife ones that will make a reader want to finish the book. So, instead of an excerpt with this blog, I’m giving you all an example of the start of the novel. Please feel free to comment if you believe I can make it stronger.

Miss Havana wiped forming moisture from the corner of her eye, winced at the growing pain stabbing her left butt cheek and squeezed tight on the sphincter dam holding back her over-full bladder. Her drumming fingers increased tempo as she glanced at the wall clock. Three-fifteen. She squirmed to relieve the burning sensation on her backside, and attempted to cover her discomfort with an announcement, “Ten minutes; make the most of them.”
Her eyes searched the room for the slightest movement or knowing glance that might reveal the perpetrator. They all looked guilty. The odor of nervous sweat mixed with pheromones clogged the air, the uncomfortable residue of twenty-eight high school students taking their chemistry mid-term exam. She continued to scan the group, looking also for subtle signs of cheating.
To facilitate stealth during past tests, she stationed herself at the back of the room to watch over her charges, making occasional forays up the aisles at unexpected times. On some occasions, she even dressed in a dark form-fitting knit top, silk pants and black petite heel shoes with soft leather soles, an ensemble of clothing that produced little sound when she moved. But not today. Today she sat in the Superglue placed on her chair by one of her students, so identifying the culprit would be far more important than catching a cheater. This time revenge could come into play.”

I am trying to follow the advice given here while I self-edit The Trophy Wife. I am on step 4 at this time. When I complete the “search and eliminate tasks,” I will hunt adverbs on my next complete reading. I wish you all good luck with your self-editing process.

Thanks for reading,

James L. Hatch



Tina Donahue said...

Great tips, James. I go through my mss as you do to get rid of unwanted words and to achieve deeper POV. It's never easy, but always worth it. LOVE your cover for The Trophy Wife. Very sexy. :)

jean hart stewart said...

Wors of wisdom! It's so easy to add adverbs and so hard to get rid of them I'm a bear on self editing the heck out of my ms but still miss too much.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Tina:

Glad you like the new cover -- and I did buy the rights to use the picture per your earlier advice (thanks again).

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Jean:

Thank you for stopping by. Sorry it took so long to respond. I just got back from Amana, IA (day trip). I will try to get a little advertisement out. New writers need to understand the importance of these simple steps.

Thank you again for your comment.