Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So That I Don't Spontaneously Combust

At the risk of inspiring non-writer Vortexers to stab nail scissors into their eye because this post is completely non-time travel, non-Fabio and non-snarky, I must wade into the writing craft waters for fear that if I don't, I might spontaneously combust. Yes, I'm that excited.

I did three things at the end of this round of novel edits that I've never done before. I can feel the difference in my writing, a literary seismic shifting where there had been only fifty-million years of erosion. So that's an exaggeration. Sort of. What are these three secrets, you ask?

Secret #1: echo word list
I kept a file on my flash drive for these little buggar words that constantly crept into my prose. Sometimes when writers think they're clever because they found a way to knit the word tether or decay into their character's introspection, they're really just being tired and lazy because they've already used it five times before and don't remember. Thus, the list. During page-by-page edits, any notion that I might have described someone's nostrils ad nauseum gets an entry on my echo list: nostrils. When page-by-page edits are complete, I pull out the echo list and plug them into the Find/Replace feature in Word. Replace nostrils with nostrils and Word tells you how many times the word appears in the document. Often I would find that I wasn't tired or lazy and the word only appeared twice in 70,000 words. More often, I found better, tighter ways to edit the line, always keeping in mind Stephen King's advice: throw out the thesaurus.

Secret#2: Find feature meet Achillies' Heel
My name is Laura, and I overwrite. Hello, Laura. We're talking goopy, black-tar prose that even Faulkner would have to strap on his rubbers for. I adore long sentences. I mourn that their time has come and gone in modern fiction. My Achilles' heel is the simile. I would eat them with whipped cream if I could, but as with all things sweet, too much is a stomach ache. So I used the Find feature to type in "_as_if_" and "_like_" (underscores being blank spaces) and page-by-page made every simile earn its place. Sometimes I had used three on the same page.  Ick. If that isn't enough to make a reader have sugar-stomach, I don't know what is. This will work on any Achillies' heel: passive voice, -ing clauses, throw-away words like would and had.

Secret #3: The Anatomy of Body Language
In striving to find fresh visceral responses, body language and voice cues, the well runs dry. Body parts like heart and lungs and chest and stomach become tired and lazy. So I went to an anatomy Internet site and printed a list of human body parts. How could I have written an entire novel and not used esophagus? Seriously, at the risk of sneaking in creepy words like thorax, it is a gateway to fresh writing.

Of course, secrets do not come from the ether. They are a gift for which one must thank the giver. I've given many nods to Margie Lawson over the years. This one comes with a visual. Thank you, Margie, for all your practical advice and your cheer leading.

Great company, a heart-pumping vertical hike and nothing but 360 degrees of mountains

And if you are a writer and are still unfamiliar with Margie, my holiday gift to you is this link to all things that will take your writing to the next level.

What's your best editing trick?


the walking man said...

Waiting twenty minutes. Or just change it next time I read it if I ever read a piece a second time. Or change it on the spot if I am reading to an audience. Poetry be's like dat.

Though I never use the word like in simile format. GAHHHHHHHHHHHHH hate that in poetry.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've got a list of those pesky words that I overuse too, and I do a search for them as one of my last revision acts.

Sherry Isaac said...

Esophagus? Brilliant!