“To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”
Micro-revision // First Steps
After the macro revision and after deconstructing your premise, themes, etc put your manuscript away. Let it cool down. As written so brilliantly by Kathy Crowley in Beyond The Margins, what happens in the drawer is a bit of magic. Refrigerate your book between each revision. Fresh eyes are a writer’s best, if most cynical, friend. When you are madly in love with your product is the time to resist. Resist sending it out to agents, resist giving it to everyone in your family (no matter how hard they beg) and resist reading and re-reading your over-loved words until you’ve memorized it.
You need to look at your book with eyes as critical as the ones judging how your ex’s have fared.
A Checklist for technical concerns:
Issues & Questions to ask yourself after every draft.
1) Showing or telling? How much narrative summary do you have? Does enough happen in scene? Is your prose as active as possible? Do you have he was angry or he shattered the window?
“Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” Mark Twain
2) Characterization? Avoid thumbnails sketches and let characters unfold before the reader. Don’t define everything the moment they come on stage, start with a bit of looks, and let character’s personality unfold before reader. Watch out for ‘looking in the mirror’ descriptions. Have your charactersmisunderstand each other at times. Have them answer the unspoken question rather than the one asked. Have them hedge, talk at cross-purposes, disagree, lie, sound human.
What’s going on with your character? Can we see her worries, excitment, and hopes? How many? We seldom feel one thing at a time. Have you tried a little tenderness? Shown the characters vulnerability? Readers like vulnerability, but beware showing too much pain: readers dislike weakness and self-pity; show pain subtly and whenever possible, with humor. If your characters feel too sorry for themselves, the reader will feel too little. Nobody likes wailing victims.
What does your character(s) want? What’s the obstacle to the want? What action has your character taken to overcome the obstacles? Are things too easy for your characters—thus tamping down tension and conflict? Thwart your characters and it will force the reader to turn the page.
“Readers want to be haunted by characters” Jessica Morrell
3) Is your point of view pitch perfect? Keep the camera angle straight. Keep description and observation within character’s point of view: is your Hell’s Angel describing the sunset too poetically? Brutal Jack noticed the wildflowers fade away in the waning sun Vs: Brutal Jack narrowed his eyes as darkness forced the highway to the width of his headlights.
4) Does your dialog hold interest and is it sophisticated? Dialogue: Watch tagging – use the invisible ‘said’ 99% of the time. Watch ‘ly’ adverbs or emotional attributions. “Do you still love me?” Maria asked nervously. Vs: “You still love me, right?” Maria gripped the steering wheel with both hands. Could you use more contractions, more sentence fragments, and more run-on sentences? Is stiff dialog really you hiding exposition? Avoid dialect and weird spellings.
Is your writing sophisticated or amateur? Janet Burroway writes in A Guide to Narrative Craft:
“John Gardner says in addition to the fault of insufficient details and excessive use of abstraction there is a third failure: ‘…the needless filtering of the image through some observing consciousness. The amateur writes: Turning she noticed two snakes fighting in among the rocks. Compare: She turned. In among the rocks, two snakes were fighting. Generally speaking--though no laws are absolute in fiction—vividness urges that almost every occurrence of such phrases as “she noticed” and “she saw” be suppressed in favor of direct presentation of the thing seen.’
The filter is a common fault and often difficult to recognize—although once the principle is grasped, cutting away filters is an easy means to more vivid writing. As a fiction writer you will often be working through “some observing consciousness.” Yet, when you step back and ask readers to observe the observer, to look at, rather than through the character—you start to tell, not show, and rip us briefly out of the scene.”
Watch simplicity, construction and linking verbs (fought as opposed to were fighting.) Use construction such as Maria slammed her cup on the counter rather than Hating Jim, Maria viciously set her cup on the counter.
Sentence choppy? Too short? Overly-said-killing-the-point-long? Leaning on Italics? Or explanation points!!!! Flowery descriptions everywhere? Sex not leaving enough to the imagination? Are you making it into a manual? Using too much profanity? (The f**k loses it’s impact when used on every page.) Are you starting sentences with when, suddenly and then? Did Maria nod her head? Have Maria nod. Did Maria sit down on the bed? Have Maria sit on the bed.
“Omit needless words.” Stunk and White.
About Randy Susan
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Women for Women
New England Home for Little Wanderers