Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tighten up your writing - Week 1

I believe it was Stephen King in, On Writing, who said that good writing is the first draft minus 10%. For the next few blog posts I'd like to share some of the 10% I take out in the hopes that it will help you, dear reader, improve your writing.

I have a list, it's not a long list, of words to search out and destroy. I keep the list on an ever present post-it note on my office wall. While drafting, I turn my back on the list and let the words flow - even the passive ones! Then, when my evil editor enters the scene, she pulls the list off the wall with a wicked smile because she's going to use it to blast holes in my beautiful (not) first draft. Here are two of her favorite targets.

Had Been
"Fera had been wanting to tell George her feelings; but refrained out of respect for his missing wife."

Cheesy writing aside, what is wrong with this sentence? There's a distance there. It's like Fera stepped outside of herself, analyzed her feelings, without feeling them all that strong. When I read stuff like this I want to scream, well did she want to or not?

"Fera wanted to tell George her feelings, but refrained out of respect for his missing wife."

Can't you feel her wanting now? Now it's personal. Now the reader is sucked into Fera's desire. It also reads faster so readers have less time to worry about their own lives or let their minds wander.

WAS
"Fera was crying out her frustrations while George was walking away."

(Yuck!) Doesn't reading that just make it feel like someone shoved your computer three feet away. It should. Passive voice distances the reader and makes it difficult for them to become involved in the story.

"Fera cried out her frustrations while George walked away."

Now that I can visualize. The first sentence is just words, the second sentence is a picture. That's what we want to write, pictures.

So now that you know this, you can start your own list of words to search out and destroy. Word's search and find tool is so helpful in editing.

What are your trigger words? Are there some you rely in when you get lazy or just because they're a habit?

2 comments:

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Great advice! I have a list as well, but it seems for every rule there's an exception. I guess our job is to see what works the best for the scene and the feeling we're trying to convey. But I hear you. I've been weeding through my current wip for a week. :)

Christina said...

Kathi,
I'd love to see your list of words - are you willing to share?