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Random Lessons From Revisions

As I've mentioned I've dived into the second round of revisions of my fantasy novel 'The Third Transmutation'. In the first revision I tried to close the most obvious plot holes. This time around I'm much more interested in telling the story in a coherent, possibly interesting style. 

Ok, the first lesson is that you shouldn't worry about misspellings in first drafts. They can always be corrected. Like I did just now, changing the headline from 'lesions'…

No, the real lesson I'm learning right now is the extent of fluff I can cut from my writing. A current favorite are tags that supposedly reinforce the character's point of view, but actually don't. 'He knew.' 'He realized.' 'She saw.' These tags very rarely have a place in the story, and I find myself cutting at least one from every page. The only time they work well is if the act of seeing or hearing or realizing is the important thing - otherwise the sight, sound, or realization is enough.

[jimvanpelt logged about a very interesting exercise for his students regarding the use of see… but I can't find it! If you have a link, please let me know. Either way, read his journal. He's an industrial scale writing gem manufacturer.]

Another thing I'm learning--under the harsh whip of my critique group--is not to over-explain things. Explaining is a vice rooted deep in my soul: I HATE BEING MISUNDERSTOOD. (Perhaps that's even one of the reasons I became a writer. I get to change the words until they convey the right meaning. Never mind that the reader will supply his or her own context and misunderstand anyway…) In early drafts I tend to leave too little to the imagination and make my points with a sledgehammer with a very large head that is very heavy and really flattens the story.

An example of a passage I'm cutting is from a scene where Alfredo, a boy of twelve, is facing four grown men with a homemade spear:

Alfredo found his resolve wavering, even if his hands remained steady. He could throw down the spear and submit to Ulubres and his plans for dominating the prisoners and Dalena. Or he could fight them and probably be beaten up or worse. Or he could run.

This is over-explaining (and also poor prose), because the story has already shown that he can neither win a fight against grown men nor run. So out it goes, along with countless other passages and redundant sentences.

A final lesson concerns adverbs. You know what they say about adverbs: "Cut them." Don't cut them efficiently--if you need to add 'efficiently', you're better off saying "Eradicate them." Taken with the usual grain of salt, this is good, classic writing advice.

What I'm becoming more aware of is that the same rule should apply to adverbial phrases.

Compare these sentences:

1) "That's a nice bracelet," he said friendly.

2) "That's a nice bracelet," he said with a smile on his face.  

The 'no-adverbs' rule says to cut 'friendly' in the first sentence. The second sentence doesn't actually contain an adverb, but the phrase itself is adverbial, since it says something about the way he smiles. Therefore that can be cut as well.

So believe you me, I am cutting those adverbial phrases. I even know I shouldn't have written them in the first place, but there you go. That's what revisions are for.

If any of you have 'revision pets', I'd love to hear about them in the comments!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2013 09:39 am (UTC)
Qualification is my deep vice. I try to be as exact as possible, so I'll says something like "He was somewhat serious about..."

I also use double verbs, most of which can be eliminated. "He started to run..." That kind of thing.
Jan. 9th, 2013 11:49 am (UTC)
I started working on deleting a lot of those double verbs a long time ago. Still working on it :-)
Jan. 9th, 2013 04:40 pm (UTC)
re: adverbial phrases--beware of the preposition! Keep a keen eye out for it when used as an adverbial phrase.

Especially "with." I have seen so many writers try to avoid using an adverb by instead using with. Like:

"He smiled with a joyful smile" instead of "He smiled joyfully"

Sometimes, an adverb is just more efficient than trying to work your way around it. Used sparingly, they are your friend!
Jan. 21st, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
I once counted all the adjectives and adverbs I used in the first 500 words of a novel I wrote (7 & 7) and compared that to my favorite writer at the time, Charles Delint (14 & 0). So I thought, hey, I need more adjectives and fewer adverbs. Years later I stumbled across his email address and sent him a message explaining my word count. He wrote back that he was glad to hear he hadn't used any adverbs, and now intended to get rid of those pesky adjectives.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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