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Author Topic: Writing/Rewriting -- Part 1  (Read 5177 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Writing/Rewriting -- Part 1
« on: October 17, 2006, 11:57:06 PM »

 Date:         Thursday, March 18, 1999 07:40 PM

BookMarc #19
Writing/rewriting part 1

Before we take off on rewriting, let me give you one more word of advice about characterization. After you work up your character backgrounds, save them. Keep them. Back them up on a floppy disk and put it in a cold dark place. You never know when a novel will turn into a series, and it will be of immense help to have the backgrounds of the main characters for the next book and to build on as you pace through the series. As for the rest, you never know when you will need a similar character in the future, or use the background as a jumping off place, maybe combine with another for a new character, or just as a reminder of how to do it. Save them all.

Okay, we've talked about plotting and characterization, and now we come to the third leg of the tripod, effective writing. Point of view and dialogue go into this, but we'll take up those separately and concentrate on effective writing, which really is rewriting. Writing is rewriting, that's a cliche, but true.

I think it goes without saying, that if, after you have managed to conquer the principles of characterization, and spent a like amount of time outlining an engaging, intricate plot, it will all go for naught if your writing is so laborious that no one will care to plow through it.

For instance, take that last sentence. If it goes without saying, why do I need to say it? And why do I need to go through all the other flowery stuff which only muddles what I'm trying to say? Am I trying to impress? So let's rewrite it as clear and succinctly as we can.

If you ain't got good writing, you ain't got nothing.

Well, okay, maybe it's not grammatically correct, but it does get the point across. And effective writing might not always be grammatically correct. It might contain fragmented sentences. It might use a descriptive word for a verb. But it will always contain only those words needed to get the idea across. We cut out forty words by the rewrite. That's why the second sentence contains so much punch. We could cut it still. "Bad writing equals nothing." But I don't think it's as clear and effective. Which get's us a principle.

Spend only those words necessary to get the idea across. This leads into the second principle. Cut out everything that doesn't advance the plot, add to the characterization, or gives a sense of place.

When they call a book a fast read, a no-put-downer, it's because the author has squeezed the maximum use out of every word. But what about such things as descriptions? They don't advance the plot or add to characterization. Ah, but they give the sense of place, verisimilitude, the feeling of actually being there. A good description adds not only setting, but mood and drama and a ring of truth. It's like another character.

The art of writing is in the balancing these elements. It's in judging how to spend our words. If we have an extraneous amusing incident or a funny bit of business, do we leave it in or take it out? It's a personal decision. If it contains a few words or is very funny, I'd leave it in. But if it's a lot of words and mildly funny, I'd probably drop it. But only the author can make that call. And if we screw it up, it could cost us the chance to be published. That's why we make the big bucks. Oh yeah.

But suppose I wrote this story to show a religious principle, or make a political statement, or to point out a hidden truth? Shouldn't I put that in regardless?

The obvious answer is no. Movies and books that set out to prove a point or make a statement and--forgive me--religiously hold to it, are almost always poor entertainment. A case in point is Michael Crichton's RAISING SUN. I read that book thinking how tight it was until somewhere in the middle the character suddenly starts talking about the Japanese and their economy and for a number of pages it was like walking through chewing gum. It added nothing to the novel and was intrusive. The author departed from a good story to state an opinion. It ruined a fast read for me, and history proved it in grave error.

It's okay to start out with a premise, but once you get into novel, if that premise no longer fits, it has to go. If you want to have a happy ending, but as you work it through every thing points to a disaster--guess wha-at? Sure, you could force it, or phony it up, but it will be obvious to your readers and leave a bad taste their mouths. Once an architect designs a building and gives it over to a builder, engineering rules how it will be build. So with your fiction writing. The story rules. You could almost consider it another principle, the story rules.

In BookMarc #20 we'll take a look at some of these things.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998
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Bob

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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