Sunday, 28 September 2014

Judicious: having, exercising, or characterized by good or discriminating judgment; wise, sensible, or well-advised

Well, having touted the strength of a book, I now need to add a qualifier.  Use it judiciously.  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers actually promotes judiciousness.  Quite simply it supports:

Judicious omission is preferable to correct superfluity.” Walter Kidde

It dedicates a chapter to dialogue mechanics.  Simple yet brilliant stuff.  Don’t write, “she asked” if the dialogue is clearly a question.  Don’t say “he repeated” when it is evident that the man has already said the words.  Don’t say that they yelled it, ensure the dialogue makes it clear that they have done so.  Do not say they laughed, sighed, barked, snapped, whined, simpered, or a myriad of other qualifiers; make sure your dialogue is strong enough, quick enough, deep enough, clever enough to convey those things.  It should need no help. 

Working through Raven’s Path, I have kept this in mind.  I have worked to eliminate the superfluous qualifiers.  But it gets hard.  Sometimes, I can’t write dialogue that conveys a whisper, a sigh, gruffness or a moan and yet it is essential to set the tone or to a mood shift.   I can’t convey that a man has a loud booming voice regardless of what he says unless I tell reader that he boomed, he barked, he shouted. Unless, of course I use multiple exclamation points, which would become quickly tiresome to a reader.  Avidly following the advice, I have stripped the last fifty pages, leaving some important dialogue scenes flopping futilely, fish upon the shore.

What to do when the self-help books aren’t helping you anymore?  Go to the experts—the well-respected, well-loved and well-selling novelists.  I took out Diana Gabaldon’s latest, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.  Have I mentioned I adore her writing?  A random flip brought me:

(Pages 404/405)

“What shall we do, Papa?” Germain whispered.

“No,” he said, firmly but with some regret (My goodness is that an adverb and telling?)

“Come,” he said more gently, (Yes, yes!  Another adverb!)

“They, who?” he’d said sharply (Again!  Be still my creative writing teacher’s heart!)

“With whom?” he asked, curious.

I am on the floor at this point, kicking my feet in gleein that last one, the question mark clearly says it’s a question, and we should be shown he’s curious, not told he is.  Besides, does not a question in and of itself imply curiosity?  Yet, Diana does it explicitly.  And, you know what.  I like it.  It works for me.  Never once have I stumbled in her writing trying to figure out what is going on.  Oh, she also smoothly intersperses lots of beats, but she has no problem making sure that we know something was asked, repeated, whispered or said softly or quietly.  It is expedient and keeps the dialogue flowing.

The word judicious rolled through my mind again.  I stand by my assertion that Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a great book to have in hand at the revision stage.  I agree that I need to weed out too many qualifiers and adverbs.  But, they do have their place.  And other experts have proven that.

 So, in light of this latest revelation, in homage to the writers who illuminate the way, here is my preferred judicious quote:

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbor's, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”  Voltaire

Sunday, 21 September 2014

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Frederick Douglass

I am enjoying revisiting Raven’s Path.  It seems I still like the story and I am thrilled to be back in the company of Brandan and Ana, not to mention some of the secondary characters who have hosted them at Fort Oswego.

Still, at times, it is difficult not to feel defeated during this third revision.  It’s not the hours involved in the rewrites or the other hours spent on reading editing books to help develop a critical lens.  It is in recognizing how inept I was in the beginning, and how I still have so much to learn.   It is not that I thought I was born a perfect writer, it’s just that I thought I was better than that! 

And, yet, I continue.  And will continue.  As I have done throughout my life—as a performer or in my many-faceted career moves.  I will persevere. 
After a particularly discouraging day of writing, I was surfing the net while my husband watched Ellen.  Jason Segel was a guest on the show.   He was speaking about his varied talents, singing, dancing and writing, but I swear he was talking directly to me.
“It’s not that I’m gifted at all these things.  It’s that I’m not afraid to be bad at them until I’m good at them.”
It’s my new mantra.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Throw Out Everything You’ve Learned At School

I have been working my way through another revision of my first novel, Raven’s Path.  It has sat on the shelf for over a year, so I am able to view it through a clearer lens now.  I have learned so much in the last few years and I cringe at many of my obvious amateurish passages.  I still like everything about the story but it needs a sweep for clutter.

In between writing, revising, researching, this blog, and life in general, I have been working my way through self-help books for writers.  My most recent, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, is a straight-forward how to manual that crystalizes the differences between the writer wannabe and the writer on her way to becoming, well, a writer.

Bottom line, throw out everything you learned in your creative writing classes throughout your years in both elementary and high school.  Get rid of those adverbs so proudly promoted by teachers.  Oh, you can throw them in during the creation stage, but hunt them down during revision and editing.  Say what you mean with concise, strong verbs.  As the authors state “...when you self-edit, you can root out these verb-adverb combinations like the weeds they are.”  They provide a simple example (and simple works very well for me J) “Angrily she set the cup…” vs “She slammed the cup…”

That’s a small glimpse of what I need to watch out for as I wander through my 400 plus pages.  I will share more of the simple yet oh-so-obvious pitfalls of the inexperienced writer in the weeks to come.  After a week of enjoying some R & R with my husband and friends, it is time to return to my garden of writing.  I’ll be busy.  It has a lot of weeds.