Monday, February 22, 2010

Love Your Work Enough to Hate it

Yes, you heard right. Go ahead. Hate it.

Sometimes your work really does suck.

The first book I wrote is wonderful in places, but it's flawed in too many ways to be fixed without a major rewrite.

My MC’s 19, a risky age, being too old for YA, too young for adult. And it has structural failure—the main conflict, dilemma, desire is resolved before the climax, and it should hold taut until at least that point. The work also relies too much on coincidence and may break true FBI procedure. I love quality enough to know this book just isn't publishable.

Practicing, getting your work critiqued and reading about craft & for pleasure will help you recognize the good, the bad and the ugly in your work.

When I wrote my second novel, Kings & Queens, I better understood structure. In that, readers and my MC are aware of a massacre plot in chapter 1, and the whole truth about the why, who and how is not revealed to readers or my MC until the epilogue.

Not everyone can do that, and I’m not saying you have to stretch it THAT far, but to have a hooky work—which is the best kind IMO—the big concern presented at the onset shouldn’t be resolved until as late as possible, and definitely not until the climax.

Sometimes your work IS good, but needs the perspective of others besides your mom to make it oh-so-fabulous.

Don’t be afraid of criticism. Yes, that's your baby, and yes, you have a delicate soul, but most critters want to help you take your work to a higher level. Take what works for your story and ditch the rest.

Hate your work enough to be objective and at least consider they may be right. After several people complained of things being confusing, I changed things to bring clarity.

And sometimes your work Is almost ready for shelves but could use another glance over.

Definitely do it. Go over it one more time, looking at everything: flow, meter, voice, grammatical errors, wordiness. I’ll probably keep toiling and tweaking until I’m signed.

With my edit this past spring spring though, in trying to get work count down, I stripped out nearly every adjective and got sentences down to bare bones, and the writing lost its sparkle and MY VOICE. Not good! So, I ended up replacing a lot of what I cut and just decided I'd reached my word count and that was that.

Well, I really need a much smaller word count. So this week, I decided to go at it again, but I set out with a different tactic. Here are the ways I was able to trim, no lie, 1300 words from my first SEVEN chapters. Yippee! And the cool thing is the scenes don't seem any emptier. They're not sparse or choppy. The flow is nice. I'm very happy. It's just kind of embarrassing that I had that much to trim and didn’t see it. You can keep these tips in mind if your work is in need of a major hack-and-slash.

Ø For the most part, keep modifiers to one per noun. Slay extra extras. Removing ALL strips out color, so don’t do that. Rather, go for vivid, concise pictures. Is it really important to say his polo shirt’s blue? If he gets mistaken for someone else wearing a similar shirt, then his shirt color factors into plot. Keep it. Just consider everything, whether it's needed or not.

Ø Choose punchy verbs over an adverb-verb combo.

Ø Omit unnecessary dialogue tags, pointless action or anything that disrupts flow during a conversation.

Ø Examine dialogue and try to say the same thing in fewer words. I hacked off so much when I broke speech down to the guts.

Ø Take a machete to exposition. Since it’s the Narrator spilling info, it pulls readers from the scene and somewhat breaks POV. Examine those scene-killers, hack away, keeping only the most vital bits.

Originally in ch. 1, I stopped to describe this hangout called Spanky’s. It really wasn't needed. I offed 75 words, keeping the one line that held some voice--a mini-golf/ice cream shop gone wild.

And chapter 4 had four paragraphs describing my character Derek’s lousy upbringing, thought process, fears, etc. I cut 200 words and it's now one spiffy graph. What I did keep relates to his thoughts.

Ø Do some telling. I know we’re told to show not tell, but in many cases, showing adds words. Showing is important for engagement, but if you’re a writer with 90-95 show percentage, don’t be afraid to take it down to 80.

Ø Kill your darlings. Sometimes we love the specific way we word sentences, but look at each construction with fresh eyes and think, can I convey this tighter? Be ruthless. Rewrite and reorganize sentences rather than just trimming down what you’ve got so you can maintain voice.

Ø Look for extraneous articles, prepositions, that’s, evens and other extras that can be cut off and not missed.

Ø Perform magic with better word choices. [e.g. He went up the stairs, two at a time…He whooshed up the stair…He double-stepped the stairs.]

Ø Get dirty with talk and thoughts. Dialogue doesn’t need to be perfect English and thoughts can be broken because people don't always think in complete sentences. [e.g. "Can’t wait for football season to start!"...or "Goin' home?"..."Excited about your new job?"...Boss sucks!]

And people blend many, many words--gotta, wanna, kinda, sorta, hafta, should've, that'd (contraction for that would...That'd be okay.). Stripping out formality, when it’s fitting for the speaker, not only trims words, it helps your characters seem more real and you less stuffy.

Ø Expand your vocabulary. Sometimes a perfect, juicy word can replace two or three. [e.g. come up with v. devise.]

Ø And don't forget to remove as many filters as you can like he saw, she could sense. Just name the stimulus or spill what the character is thinking or experiencing. [e.g. She wondered if he could read her mind. v. Could he read her mind?] If you're firmly locked into one POV, such trims won't be jarring at all.

Strangely, with all this excess baggage shed out of my manuscript, I feel refreshed and exhilarated, knowing my work is cleaner and overall better.

Don’t be afraid to have a love-hate relationship with your work. You’ll be a much better writer for it.

All the best!

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The New Me, Writing Tidy & Compact

Yesterday, I read a bit of the first version of Kings & Queens, pre-critique. Wow! Total eye-opener! What a mess!

I had good plot construction and well-developed characters, but I had a tendency to overwrite, still do at times, but this was way worse.
Often times, I see newbies making this same mistake. They choose wordy fluff and flowery rills, going the roundabout way of saying everything, because they think it makes them sound more writery or literary. All it does is create sludge for readers and scream "amateur" to pros.

Of course it's cool to use unique phraseology, to have lush description at times. That's what gives you your voice and your story some texture. I'm talking about overwriting when you don't need to.

There's a huge difference between:

Majesty chuckled, traversing from grass to dirt, finding it humorous that kids still gave credence to the tale her friend, Alec, had spun eons ago about the spooks, these wood-dwelling people-turned-creatures.

and this:

Traversing from grass to dirt, Majesty chuckled that Alec’s tale about the wood-dwelling people-creatures endured.
Man. That top one's terrible, right? Don't I know it! Major suckatude!

In my later versions, I'd stripped out a lot of this, but for the past two weeks, I've been trimming more and more, burning off everything extraneous. In my first seven chapters, I removed 1300 words. 1300 words! That's insane! I'm almost embarrassed, AFTER several edits, I still had that much garbago.
During my last word extraction, I took out extra adjectives, unnecessary dialogue tags and the like, but a ton of that tinkering made my work too dry and stilted. So I put some back in and considered my work done. Not!

I just went about it the wrong way. Now, I'm rewriting and rearranging, blending actions and sharpening dialogue to get things tight and tidy. I have exactly the same scenes, but they're tighter and neater.

Since I'm going YA with this crossover novel of mine, my word count needs to be nearer to YA range, which usually caps off at about 80-85,000, slightly more for literary, epics and fantasy. Mine's suspense. So all this cutting is necessary for me if I want to succeed.

In summer, I was at 106,000 words—nuts I know—and two weeks ago, almost 101,000. I'm currently at 95,500, but I'm only finished with 11 chapters. I think I can get it to 90,000 or lower. It would still be large, even for a multilayered, upper-YA like mine, and that's not as glaringly horrid as a 100 g's and change.

Thanks to my wonderful critters from TNBW, I've come a long, long way from that wordy nerd I once was. Now I'm just a nerd...with a more concise delivery.
Write on, my peeps. And be direct. It'll save you lots and lots of time in the editing round.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.