As not only an editor but a self-editor (since I’m also a writer), I see everything under the sun when it comes to extra verbiage. We all do it. Whether it’s extraneous words in our narrative or dialogue to plain old excess narrative, we need to write lean, mean and get to the point. The more garbage you add on, even if some literary circles love words, most readers will lose interest (or at least struggle to stay interested). Also, those extra words add clutter that weakens the impact of everything you’re trying to say.
Self-editing has its hazards. There’s always the forest-through-the-trees mentality. That’s unavoidable because you’re too close to the story and your mind tends to fill in what you intended to say rather than what you put on the page. The way to fix a lot of that is to set the writing aside, move on to something else and come back to it later. The biggest fix is experience. The more you write and learn the craft, the cleaner you’ll write, as long as you heed advice, have the aptitude to pick up the tricks, and practice them. Also, when you go back for the second or third or more edits, you’ll more easily spot the issues and fix them.
WHAT IS EXTRA VERBIAGE?
Wow, where to begin?
How about double/repeated words? I don’t mean stuttering like bbbbut or he he he did this. I’m talking about using the same key word two or more times in the same sentence or within the same paragraph. In this case, I’m not talking about articles such as the and and, but for instance, unique words like a common action tag…nodded.
Nodded, used as a tag, is one of my weaknesses. Detach nodded…whatever…
In the next paragraph, or maybe the one after that, Elroy nodded…whatever…
When you see multiple action tags using the same word on the same page, or even too often within the same chapter, the repetition becomes noticeable.
Using window five times in a paragraph.
Repeating a character’s name five times within a paragraph. It should only be there once. Then, when you fix it, if the name is at the start of each sentence, you replace it with He or She. Guess what? Now you have the character’s name once, but either he or she four times starting each sentence! Same problem, you just replaced one repeated word with another. Time to re-write three of those sentences to eliminate the need for the pronoun at the beginning of each sentence. Also, keep in mind using too many of them hidden within each sentence. See how you can eliminate some of them within each sentence by re-writing the sentences to avoid having to use the pronoun constantly. A lot of this comes to style and feel.
Speaking of which…with some authors, there isn’t a pronoun they don’t love.
This is especially true in first-person but can also have a huge effect in third.
In first-person, it’s I, me, my in every sentence. You have to get creative to eliminate them or it gets repetitious.
In third person, it’s he, she, him, her in excess. Same difference.
In true omniscient, it’s they & them.
It’s said that some authors never found an adverb they didn’t like. I’ve read a few of these people.
Very, absolutely, considerably…the list goes on. These are all extra words that have little to no impact on the sentence.
Example: Joe stood back and stared at the very huge man.
Joe stood back and stared at the huge man.
While I have other issues with that sentence, the main one is the completely (also an adverb) unnecessary very in the sentence.
You can tell a lot of adverbs because they end in ly.
Another one is just.
Cyndi got there just in time.
In this case, you can almost justify using it.
I’d make it less passive.
Cyndi rushed through the door two seconds before the train pulled away.
COMMON CONVERSATIONAL & OTHER PHRASES
There are certain common phrases we use in dialogue and elsewhere that don’t belong in narrative.
Though it would seem Randy was hungry, he could not eat.
No ceegar, folks.
Despite his stomach pangs, Randy could not eat.
The best way to learn these things is to practice practice practice. Also, if you haven’t had classes, belong to a writer’s group or have a mentor to help you, check out books in the library or on-line on grammar, adverbs & style. These books can do wonders. I have to admit I’ve never cracked one of those books because I learned from alternative methods.
Once again, I’ve been inspired by recent threads on a forum. Someone asked how to deal with writer’s block. This is something that occurs way too often, especially with writers that, at least to me, take this passion as a hobby. On the other hand, when one cannot fully grasp the concept of seat-of-the-pants writing, there’s the real possibility of writing into a trap. Maybe it’s time to try outlining. On the other hand, using some of these following techniques may also be a cure.
This article is almost a challenge for me because since I found this passion back in 1995, I’ve never had writer’s block. The ideas just keep flowing and the one time I did have writer’s block, back in 1972 when I tried my hand at that pathetic Star Trek satire, it deserved to be blocked!
WHAT IS WRITER’S BLOCK?
This may seem like a dumb question to those of you that have experienced it, but if you haven’t yet, it’s where you reach a point in your creativity where the well runs dry. You get to a point in your story, or maybe before you even start, and can’t think of a thing to say. Nothing. You sit down at the computer, or twiddle the pen or pencil in your hand and stare at the blank screen or paper and stare…and stare and nothing comes. You blink your eyes, twiddle some more, tap your fingers. A swell of unease rises from the pit of your stomach. This eventually blossoms into panic. Maybe a deadline looms, whether real or imagined. The panic turns into a mental block that becomes an outright wall of despair.
I can no longer write! Aaagh!
For those of you that have experienced writer’s block, is that about it? Is it close?
Though I haven’t personally had the problem, when it comes to writing at least, I have had similar issues in other areas. Plus, I’ve paid attention to the threads and listened to others in conversation with potential ways to solve writer’s block.
One thing you can do is just quit. Think about it. One reason you may have writer’s block is that you’re all hung up on having it in the first place. You’re so worried about finishing your story, or about some roadblock to your creativity, why not just back off and quit for a while? I hate to cop that old Billy Bass phrase from the song by Bobby McFerrin, but how about a little Don’t worry, be happy? I’m dead serious. Go on to something else for a while. When the muse strikes you again, it might be something sneaky that creeps into your subconscious that tells you your solution, or it might be while you’re out driving, shopping, or wake up from a vivid dream and it hits you like a lightning bolt. Aha! The block is over!
How about doing a writing exercise? Maybe try flash fiction. Take your mind off your present predicament and go into something else for a while. Write one or a couple of flash fiction pieces. Maybe even start an unrelated novel. What if something within those unrelated stories clicks and gets you back to your square one or two or three of your writer’s block?
BREAK IT DOWN
Try breaking down what happened. You have writer’s block but why? What caused the writer’s block? Did you run out of ideas? Did you write yourself into a corner? If you just finished a novel and are supposed to start another one in a series, what if there shouldn’t be another one? Say, you’re expected to make a third book in a trilogy, but you can’t come up with a good idea for book three? You never planned it well enough ahead? Uh oh? Or, say, you’d mapped it all out but for some reason, you accidentally combined book three’s plot in book two…or…that original idea became moot for book three? Now what? Writer’s block!
Now, you have to come up with something else. By analyzing it…not agonizing over it, maybe you can come up with something interesting. Here again, if you hit a wall, just stop and move on to something else. If you have a deadline, getting freaked out about it isn’t going to make matters any better. Stop. Let your mind go blank. Bandy thoughts as they come along. Don’t discard anything outright, but then again, look at each idea carefully. You don’t want to retread, or go into cliché but at the same time, you may have written yourself into something that’ll be hard to get out of.
CONSULT YOUR PEERS
It never hurts to ask your peers for advice. It’s not like they’re going to steal your ideas…well, unless you’re writing a screenplay! Geez, you have to be so careful showing screenplays around Hollywood! Sorry, I’m off on a tangent.
One other thing. Though this may seem like a waste of time, you can always just write. With your mind blank, sit down and write something…anything (thanks Todd Rundgren). See what comes out in the wash. Go ahead and throw it away if you have to. It may be total nonsense. Then again. From all that garbage, maybe it will click your mind back into gear. You never know.
If you see writing as a passion and not work or a hobby, you’re going to find a way around writer’s block. How you do it is up to you. I wish you luck!
The inspiration for this article came from a book I just read, followed by another book I recently started. Contrasts.
The book I just finished was probably a good third longer, but seemed shorter than the first twenty pages of the second book.
Yup. The answer is narrative.
The second book bogged down right off with nothing but narrative. Page after page of narrative. Mind numbing narrative, most of it backstory, internal thoughts, character development and little action.
Folks, you don’t do that at the beginning of a book!
Every author has a story to tell (okay…gag…show). The issue is how to do it in so many words. There has to be a love of words, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this. However, there also has to be a love of word economy and getting to the point. There’s so much that you, the author wants to tell the reader about, yet you also don’t want to bore and bog down the reader in unnecessary details.
Look at it this way.
Have you ever caught yourself telling someone about something and noticing how their eyes drift? Say, you get on a tear about something, then realize you’ve lost the listener? You get a little too into what you’re talking about and forget that other person may not want to hear the details? Maybe they just want you to get to the point? Or, it’s you on the receiving end and the teller’s the one that may not get the hint?
Think about that when you’re the one writing.
Think about that when you want to add all those mind-numbing details into your story.
Don’t slam the reader with them all at once.
SPACE THINGS OUT
Okay, Jill doesn’t like the color green. It all started with Jello when she was in kindergarten. Do you have to go on and on about it for five pages, especially right at the beginning of the story? Does it really affect anything? Even if it does, how about if you throw in a sentence or paragraph here and there, mixed with some kind of action to keep the story moving?
Page after page of a wall of words with no space gets to be a bit much. Short paragraphs mixed with dialogue makes the story move much faster, keeps the reader more engaged.
There’s no reason you can’t keep throwing in all those details you want to add, but do so in shorter spurts, mixed in with the action!
CONTRASTS & WORD ECONOMY
In the fast-moving story, I learned everything I wanted to know about the characters, and more in short snippets, well-placed sentences that didn’t bog down in endless narrative and exposition.
In the slow one, I got slammed with so much right off the bat, I’ve already forgot most of it and can’t remember the names of the majority of the characters by the third chapter. I’ve already forgot most of the details as well. I don’t even care.
I’m a lover of words or I wouldn’t be here. However, I’m a lover of saying it simple, not mind numbing.
I’ve seen some pretty messed up, lazy writing and people make all kinds of excuses for doing so.
“Oh, it’s all about the story.” Yeah, sure.
Nobody considers that the reader has to suffer through this crap.
Nobody considers that readers may not be as dumb as some writers think they are.
Self-publishing can be good or it can be extremely bad.
Don’t blame it all on self-publishing. There are some conventionally published books out there with very bad writing.
Unfortunately, bad writers always point to these bad examples. “See? So and so did it, had a huge best-seller and did just fine!”
I don’t buy that. Sorry.
ALL OVER THE PLACE
Mary went to the store, idly browsing the pasta aisle. I looked at the shelf and told myself I’m going to get some spaghetti this time and I don’t care if Don doesn’t like it. I set the box of noodles in my cart.
Joann approaches and gives Mary the up and down. I hate her. She’s such a slut.
Mary noticed a presence behind her but ignored it. She knew who was there and doesn’t want to address the ho-bag Joann. She looks at another box of pasta.
Where do I even begin with this crap? Head-hopping? Mixing tenses from past to present? Mixed third and first-person?
This is the kind of bad writing I see plenty of in drafts, before editing, let alone stuff that actually gets published. Try reading 100K words of this!
MORE AND MORE NO RULES
More and more people are pushing, suggesting, down right advocating not to follow rules of writing because “all that matters is the story.”
You really notice it when you try to slog through a badly written tome then get to one where the author follows the rules and you breeze right through it. There’s a noticeable difference!
A noticeable difference.
People, getting lazy isn’t doing anyone no favors.
I’m not advocating being completely rigid, but geez, let’s get real.
When we talk about breaking a rule, we’re talking a little slip here and there, not out and out ignoring all of them!
As an author, why should you be the one accused of being functionally illiterate?
Think about it.
I was recently on a thread in one of my Facebook groups and a participant asked if anyone else though their fantasy genre was oversaturated.
Whatever genre or non-genre you write, have you ever felt that way? When you delve into your interest, do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of material out there? Do you feel like your swimming upstream?
THINK ABOUT IT
Say you’re a romance writer. Your focus is (naturally) on romance, so you concentrate on romance groups, other romance writers and romance novels. Ah, duhh. What do you think you’re going to find? Of course, you’re going to see hundreds, maybe thousands of novels in your genre.
What if you’re a literary author. Your focus is literary fiction. Guess what you’re going to find. “Literally” thousands of examples of what you’re up against.
Of course your field of focus is crowded.
There’s no such thing.
Since everyone has a unique voice, I go back to the Agatha Christie thing I like to use. Murder. There are so many ways you can kill someone with a gun. There are so many ways you can kill someone with a knife…poison…garrotte…polonium…what have you. They’ve all been done before.
The princess has been rescued a million ways before.
The bad guys have been headed off at the pass.
Folks. Everything has been done before.
VOICE VOICE VOICE
Why do these same stories keep getting told over and over again? Why do these supposedly “oversaturated” genres and non-genres keep getting more books published?
A unique voice and an unique way of telling the same old thing with a unique blend to make it that author’s own take is what makes every one of these stories different. Each individual author puts their own personality and voice into the same old same old and makes it something fresh and different. They add twists and turns and make them fun.
This is where you, the author, come in.
FORGET OVERSATURATION – PAY IT NO MIND
If you’re writing for market trends, or what you think will be hot, find another passion!
You need to follow your muse, follow your passion!
Forget about what you think might be oversaturated. Write what you feel and put your voice into it. You are what makes the story unique.