Friday, October 1, 2010

The Labor of Writing

For much of the last month, I have been editing what I have written over the last ten-plus years. I have over a dozen manuscripts to work on, so I have my work cut out for me. Over the last year or so I have learned what many of my writing weaknesses are. Through combing the internet for knowledgeable writers willing to share their knowledge, and also through participation in a writing contest where feedback is the greatest asset, I have compiled a list of my writing weaknesses.

At first, all I had was my computer's spell checker with it's little explanation to go by. Truth be told, I learned quite a bit from that, but some things were still a mystery.

Passive sentences were my greatest weakness. Not only did I not know what they were exactly, I didn't know how to fix them. Upon occasion I managed to make a few alterations that made my computer happy, but I really didn't know what I was doing. It was more hit and miss than anything else. Now I know what a passive sentence is; it is the action coming before the act-ee in a sentence. When writing fiction especially, we need to know who or what is doing the action first.

Another thing I've done is starting a sentence with 'it'. Not such a huge crime unless 'it' isn't readily identifiable. Nothing pulls your reader out of the story-line faster than having to look up what 'it' was. That also goes for using 'it' in the middle of a sentence. Always make sure 'it' is easily understood or reword your sentence.

Overusing certain words like 'was' and 'that' are another thing I have problems with. I recently heard a recommendation saying if 'was' was on a page more than two or three times, the story risked being dull. Frankly, this one I'm still sorting out. I mean, how do you explain something that took place in the past, without using 'was'? The scene I'm angsting over involved one character telling another character about his past. Information he needs to know. Information I can totally see him asking about, so it's not something I can just leave out. Ah well, we'll see. Maybe an editor can sort it out for me. I really look forward to working with an editor. I hope to learn from the experience.

So that's what I'm doing with much of my time. Word searching for 'that', 'it', the passive sentence markers like 'is', 'are', 'am', 'was', 'were', 'being', 'has been', 'have been', 'had been', 'will be', followed by a past participle. And on top of it all, rather than telling you what the character is feeling, adding thought as a window into their life.

Which of course brings me to my most recent lesson. How to show as opposed to telling by using thought and the visible markers of emotion - tears, shaking hands, blushing, pulsing veins, body language of all sorts, as well as thoughts, to clue us in on how a character is feeling. Watch the people around you. They do all manner of things to broadcast their feelings.

My current project is over a thousand pages and believe it or not but all the above fixes cut words. This book may never be less than a thousand pages - I'd have to cut over a hundred and fifty pages to accomplish that, but it's already a one-piece trilogy so I have high hopes for it.

3 comments:

Bob Scotney said...

There are a lot of useful tips in this. 'It' can help you a lot.

S.M. Carrière said...

A great post, Anna! I'll reference it in my blog post today.

Mattias Kroon said...

Thanks for the advises!