Sunday, June 17, 2007

Writing Tip of the Week #3: Edits/Revisions

I've spent the good part of the past three weeks doing revisions and edits for my editor on one of my fall releases. This is a book that was written several years ago and it seems its time is now. I'd say, actually, I probably started it about ten years ago. Long time. That is not to say that I've worked on it constantly since then, no, it was finished a while back. But when shopping it around to editors back then, time travel and pirates weren't very hot. Guess what. Time travel and pirates are hot today.

So, because of the passage of time (no put intended) when I sat down to really dig into the story to revise, I realized how much my writing style had changed over the years. There were some great descriptive passages in the book. Loved those and my editor did, too, however I found that editorial-wise, I had some work to do on it. Some head hopping, passive writing, repetitive word use, and some big ol' long run on sentences.

My editor also had some fantastic ideas about plot. I love her editing style. Instead of saying -- change this to this, make the hero or heroine do that -- she would actually make me THINK about certain aspects of the book, reply to her questions, and realize on my own what needed to be done. Smart girl. Since I love my words and my stories, the bulldogging editor bit doesn't work with me. She'd ask questions like, "why do you love your hero?" and when I'd reply she'd say, "well, I just wanted to ask because...what might make that come off differently?" She's a gem, I tell you.

So plot points of course are easy to change. They take time but they made the book oh-so-much better. I hope. (she's still reading) But as I was going through the entire book again from front to back (all 90,000 words of it) I noticed small things that just drove me up the wall. Some of those were:

•Overuse of the word “that” Example: How was it that she had come to think that Henry would ever consider something like that? Oh, that’s really bad, but you get the picture.
•The phrases “she let” and “she allowed” – duh, this was a nagger. Example: She allowed herself to think about that, OR, She let herself grow limp. Geez Louise – Just “go limp” or “think about it” you don’t have to “let” or “allow” yourself to do it!
•The word “felt.” My good friend Jan has drilled this one into my head so it was easy to pick out. Show not tell. If she felt amused, then show it, by laughing her head off or something.
•And those pesky tag lines. I had so many “she croaked” “he whispered” “she snorted” “he surmised” “she yelled” “he responded” that it was overpowering in places. He said, she said, can work just fine in many places.

In order to make sure I catch these kinds of things, there are two things I do.

One, first pass through, read and revise and do the obvious work you see, make the changes that jump out at you, etc.

Two, second pass through do searches for the words or phrases that are your naggers in your find/replace option. For example, do a find for "that" and read each sentence. How can you make the sentence better?

Three, third pass through, read the thing aloud, from front to back. Yes, I know this takes time, but it is my biggest tip today. It took me three days to read all 90,000 words aloud of that manuscript. But it was worth it. When you read aloud you stumble over the words that trip you up. The cadence sounds different coming from your mouth rather than being said in your head. And when you say those pesky naggers out loud over and over, you realize what needs to be changed.

This works for me. Everyone has their own ways of doing edits and revisions. Hope this might help someone a bit along the line.

Happy Sunday, everyone!



Jen Black said...

I wonder about this reading aloud thing, for no one I know ever reads a book aloud when they buy it. Not to themselves, anyway!
But if it works for you at the editing stage, that's great!
I tend to read it aloud in my head, if that makes any sense at all
Jen Black

Maddie James said...

Hey Jen! Thanks for stopping by. The thing with me about reading passages aloud is that is when I catch the things that don't work. Like if I've used a word three times in the last three sentences. I might trip over it when I'm reading in my head, but reading aloud you have to say every word and then you catch the ugly stuff. :)

It's also different reading from hardcopy than from computer. Every noticed that? If I print and read hardcopy I notice more things that need to be changed rather than just reading on the computer.

Ah well, whatever works, works!