Monday, March 4, 2013

The Editing Cave

It's been awhile since I wrote about writing.

I finished a rough draft last week - a 108,xxx word novel I started during last year's NaNoWriMo.

Normally, I like to step away from a project before editing, but I decided to do some initial passes before setting it aside. Putting some distance between you and and a newly finished work is always a good idea, as I felt like it always recalibrated my perspective on it.

My first steps in editing are pretty simple: GET RID OF THE GARBAGE. Just from making my initial pass, I've cut 1,000 words so far.

What's garbage? It's a list of stuff:

1) Crutch words. These are words that I personally use too much. For a lot of writers, these crutch words include: that, really, just, suddenly, almost, nearly, felt (or his ugly cousin felt like) seems, could (could see, could feel, could - could - and MORE could), and for a moment.

My personal issue is when I use that instead of the proper relative pronoun. I do this A TON!

He was the man that knew everything. (Wrong)
He was the man who knew everything. (Right)

2) Crutch dialog tags or gestures. Are your characters doing a lot of head nodding, shaking, shrugging, shuddering, smiling, laughing, swallowing hard, catching their breath, gazing, and glancing? Nothing is wrong with using these sparingly, but take a look and see if you're overusing them. Sometimes, you can get rid of the gesture entirely and use dialog to give a vivid picture to your reader. You can also be a little more creative, just don't overwrite it!

Don't have your novel read like stage directions. Allow room for your reader to use your imagination. No need to spell every little gesture out. It gets distracting. If the gestures or character actions do nothing to move things forward, then don't write it. Unless it's vital I know a character takes a bite out of a sandwich, taking a swig of their tea, or whatever...get rid of it.

3) Adverbs. Anything with -ly at the end is a red flag. I will keep some, but maybe 90% of them go. Why? Because using ADVERBS is lazy writing. I learned this from Stephen King and my years as a freelance editor. It's a short cut that doesn't allow the reader to get engaged.

4) Passive voice. I search for forms of  "to be," the most common being was or were. Passive voice is weak, and again, boring and disengaging for your reader. If the subject of your sentence is being acted upon, that's a big hint you've got passive voice going on.

John was pushed by the wind. (Passive)
The wind pushed John. (Active)

5) Wordy suffixes. Anything with a -ness or -ize at the end of a word is going to be examined. Many times, suffixes are not necessary. Writers often add suffixes like -ness to a perfectly good word. I don't get rid of all of them, but I do zap most of them. They're unnecessary and make the reader stumble. Make sure you editize in order to get your manuscript to a higher level of perfectness.

These are easy and quick fixes I make during a first pass. If I see other stuff that needs more involved editing, I do it if I happen to see it. The FIND function in your word processor is your best friend.

Do you have any CRUTCH words or gestures you find yourself leaning on too often in your work?

33 comments:

PT Dilloway, Grumpy Bulldog said...

I spent months ridding stories of -ing verbs at the behest of an "editor". It was quite the pain.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Felt is a word is use a lot. Same with though. I manage to avoid most ly and suffixes though. And I'll nix the ing by turning it into ed. (Although not in the sentence I just wrote!)
My work never sits long because by the time I finish, I've forgotten how it began.

Jay Noel said...

PT: Oh wow, that would be tough to do. That's a lot of changing.

Alex: I too have writer's amnesia. But I outline pretty well, and it's all right there on my Scrivener page. Love it.

T. S. Bazelli said...

My crutch usual words are 'turned' and 'felt', but every manuscript seems to have sneaky crutch phrases that slip in there, and those are so hard to find because they keep changing. (bookmarked because I'm guilty of ALL)

Rusty Webb said...

Sure, I have tons of crutch words... a good 50% of them are probably crutch-ish. I got folks nodding and shaking heads so much they're almost ready to pop off. Of course, like anything, it's about how much. I know dialog attribution tags are starting to fall out of favor with some and recent writing advice from many is to use actions/gestures instead. So, moderation is in order no matter what it is I'm doing.

I kind of do the best I can with what feels right to me. Still, passive voice gets me too. I'll think I've written the greatest passage ever and then read it again later and realize it was a snoozfest of lame. Editing is our friend.

D.G. Hudson said...

'That, and just' seem to creep into my writing in the draft stages. Passive voice I have to look for as well.

Enjoyed your list of things to edit out of the ms. I have a copy of all these Crutch words posted near my desk to remind me.

Jay Noel said...

T.S. Ouch: felt and felt like are two huge ones for me too. I had to update my post to include those!

Rusty: I'm in the exact same boat. We're all blind to our own work - that's why editing can be your friend. It's a love/hate thing for me.

D.G. Thanks for visiting. I think I need to keep my list handy too. I love that idea.

David P. King said...

I use Look and Glance waaaaay too much, but then I'm big on writing body language. Is there a body language thesaurus out there? :)

Jay Noel said...

Hmmm....body language thesaurus. I'm pretty sure there's something out there. I do my research at airports and stuff. I write down all kinds of details while people-watching.

Ciara said...

Yep, all great words to avoid when not needed. The funny thing is you can always spot a new writer who has done classes on voice, pacing and other various writing terms. They try to write an entire book without out the word that or were. They'll even omit them in a passive sentence. Um...please don't do that. :)

M Pax said...

My crutch words seem to continuously change. I'm mostly a recovered thataholic. Then I got in to 'so' for awhile. This last one I caught myself using 'when' a lot. I don't know why these overuse issues come u and why they change. It's a puzzle.

Some 'ly words are good and needed. Most times though, they signal where the writer can show instead of tell.

I try to minimize feel/felt and was/were. But if it ruins the flow or limits sentence variation, sometimes I put them back in.

Make sure not to edit out your voice. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

This is the part of editing I dislike. With a passion :)

Riann Colton said...

For me it's "could".

He could see...

He saw.

He could go...

He went

Coulds. Get me all the time. I could fill a book with them.

Mr. Shife said...

For some reason I have gotten into the bad habit of starting sentences with conjunctions like and or but. And I like it. So I am trying to clean up that kind of stuff in my writing but it is hard. Good luck with your editing. I know how hard it can be.

Jay Noel said...

Ciara: It's impossible to write a book with using either of those words. Just gotta watch it.

Mary: It's a balancing act. I just don't want to keep using the same crutch words over and over again.

Carol: I hear ya!

Riann: Crap. I knew I forgot one. I added COULD in there. I'm just as guilty.

Shife: Those who say you can't start a sentence without a conjunction are supporting a made up rule. It might be for academic papers, but depending on the kind of writing, it's fine. Just don't start a bunch of sentences in a row with 'em

Matthew MacNish said...

For me they're different with each book. In the one I'm currently revising, I can't believe how many different phrasings of "I realized" I have to cut or change.

Jay Noel said...

Oh, man, that's another I use a lot. Lots of realizing going on.

the weirdgirl said...

My crutch words are "seem," "really," and "though". My blogging is lousy with them (not that I care so much there) but I pull them out of creative writing when I see them. Starting sentences with "and," "but," or "so" are other big ones for me. But that's totally how I talk in real life so there you go. Totally... that's another one.

Cherie Reich said...

Sounds like a great way to trim the fat from a novel. I find my crutch words change. I'll stop using one word or use it sparingly, and then another crops up in its place. It's a never-ending battle. LOL!

Pk Hrezo said...

Yep guilty of all those. And they get nixed thru rounds of revisions. It's funny I'm going back thru an old ms I wrote 2 years ago and seeing all these no-nos. AT the time I wasn't skilled enough to see them.

And once I realized the difference between using "that" and "who" I noticed it everywhere. SO many peeps make that mistake.

Laura Eno said...

Yes to all at different times. I conquer one and latch onto another. :)
Just and felt are the two biggest problems for me at the moment.
It's like PK said - once you're aware of something it leaps out at you and makes your eyes bleed.

Cindy said...

Sometimes I get hooked on a word. My latest one was the word "weaved", which was brought to my attention by a crit partner..thank God. Lol..

Brinda said...

I hope I don't use the word "very" in speech as much as I do in my writing. That could become VERY annoying. :) Those are all great tips.

Joanne Fritz said...

This is helpful advice. I use could and that way too often. And my characters are constantly looking, staring, glancing, and nodding.

Then there's my tendency to use rhetorical questions. ("What if is was true? Would he be in trouble?") I've been told this is lazy writing, but then I'll be reading a published book and find a paragraph with five rhetorical questions in a row!

I found you through PK.

nutschell said...

Editing. i love and hate it at the same time. Great post, Jay. Definitely needed this as I'm almost ready to start editing my manuscript.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

The Desert Rocks said...

Good stuff Jay. I use very too much and just, maybe and wimpy words that show I'm non-committing. LOL

Jay Noel said...

Just zapped a bunch of overused crutch words. Could and seem. Ugh. More to do!!!

Riann Colton said...

Jay - I saw your mention of body language thesaurus so I'm totally going to pimp a couple of Calgary ladies who wrote The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide To Character Expression. Wicked cheap on Amazon. It's aaaawesome.

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Melissa Bradley said...

I could go on an don with my crutch words... managed, gazed, nodded, shook his head.. Yikes! Terrific post and one i needed to see.

Michael Offutt, S.F.A. said...

This sounds like a great checklist. I recently went through and edited a book that I hadn't touched for over a year. I thought by the time I finished the edit, that it was 100% better. Then I emailed it to Harper Voyager and am still waiting to see if I make it to the second round. So far so good.

Milo James Fowler said...

Good stuff, Jay. That's the work side of things, for sure. Drafting is playtime, but editing is when it gets serious. I enjoy the polishing process, but I have to stop myself eventually and get my work out on submission; otherwise, I'd probably edit myself into the grave.

Jay Noel said...

I NEED another pair of eyes. I'm pretty blind when it comes to looking at my own work.

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