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Author Topic: Writing/Rewriting -- Part 2  (Read 4961 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Writing/Rewriting -- Part 2
« on: October 18, 2006, 12:52:42 AM »

Date:         Thursday, March 25, 1999 01:05 PM

BookMarc #20
Writing/rewriting ó part 2

In BookMarc #19 we whittled one sentence down from fifty words to ten. Guess which reads faster? If you saved ten words a page, over 240 pages, say the length of BLOODY BONSAI, you will have saved 2400 words. That's a whole chapter. And if you lost nothing essential in the cutting, which reads faster? If you can save a word by rewriting sentence it's worth it.

But there are other ways to slow down a fast read to a drag. Lets look at a made up paragraph:

Dawn found them in Hoffas! Their eyes were filled with the wonder of it (sand blown though they were), and it gave a "lift" to their spirits, which had been drastically, and almost permanently, seemingly totally depressed. They were still maybe one or maybe two miles away, "as the crow flies," but the fragrant smell of the city lovingly reached out to them, and the beauty of the city overwhelmed them till they were standing in "awe!"

Okay. Lets take the apparent things first. Parentheses are a lazy way of trying to make a sentence work when it should be rewritten. They slow the flow, disturb the chain of thought, and I don't think they have a place in fiction. The same with the words in quotes. If the word fits, the quotes are unnecessary, and if it doesn't, the quotes will only call attention to it. Look at the exclamation points. An occasional use, like three or four in a novel might work, but an exclamation point won't give punch to a sentence that lacks it. And there's the cliches--as the crow flies and awe--which is the hall mark of hackneyed writing, draining off any spontaneity we may accidently stir up. All those 'ly' adverbs and adjectives don't really improve weak nouns or verbs. Then there are all the generalities which really tell us little and show us nothing. And let us not forget the passive beginning sentence which is archaic and a cliche. "Dawn found them in Hoffas."

Perhaps the cardinal sin of the paragraph is that it doesn't engage the reader. Let's see if we can straighten it out using our old friend, Oself, our other self, to give us focus.

They galloped over a rise a half-mile outside Haffas. A pink dawn silhouetted its domes and minarets, turning the desert city into a promise of rebirth. Oself rubbed grit from his eyes as a cock's crow rode in on a cool air filled with the fragrance of jasmine and cooking fires fueled by pungent camel dung, and his doubts slipped away with the shadows of night.

Lets break this down and compare paragraphs. Instead of the passive ho-humer, 'dawn found them,' we give it action which engages the reader. Something is going on. What is it? And we give color to the dawn, using it to paint a picture of Haffas, furthering engaging the reader. Even the possibility of pink is foretelling. We eliminate confusion by declaring it a desert city. Instead of adverbs and adjectives, we try for stronger verbs and nouns: sucked in, doubts, fueled, slip away. The promise of rebirth uplifts our spirits w/o the obvious telling us. In the third sentence we shift the emphasis from 'They' to Oself, so that instead of telling the reader how to feel, we allow him to experience it through Oself's eyes. By replacing vagueness with the specific, we not only give authority to our narration, but we trigger responses in our reader's mind. 'Fragrant smell' from the first paragraph tell us nothing. But cooking fires and jasmine and dung evoke remembered aromas in our mind. Also, why spend words on whether we're two or three miles out? We are the God of the story. Half-mile. That's it. Who's going to dispute us? And finally, we let the reader experience Oself's mood shift and the reason for it, setting us up for the beginning of the next paragraph.

Before quitting this example, let's take a look at the words 'seemingly' and 'almost.' In 'almost' every sentence these appear you can leave them out w/o changing the meaning. They are nothing words along with 'very,' and 'as you know.' He was a very tall man. Tells us nothing. And "as you know" falls into the same category as the 'it goes without saying' example we eliminated in BookMarc #19, if it goes w/o saying, why do we need to say it? And "as you know," if we already know it, why do we need to say it. We have to keep these word-mongers from creeping into our work.

But the one that I hate the most is--somehow. "Somehow she knew someone was behind her." Don't palm that garbage off on your reader. Give me something--"She smelled the reek of cigarettes and knew..." or even a vague "She felt another presence and turned..." is better than "somehow." What a lazy and hackneyed to put it, and yet I see writers do it all the time.

If we learn from these examples, we'll end up far down the road to effective writing. Specifics for generalities. Active for passive. Experience through a character rather then telling. And reach for the right words, nouns and verbs, rather then accepting hackneyed cliches.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

==========
From:    Vivian Chern
Date:    Thursday, March 25, 1999 01:23 PM

I disagree about the parentheses and punctuation. Sometimes they are part of the voice of the writing and should be left in.
Even cliches, sometimes, have a place in good writing. For example - well, never mind. Wait for my book. You'll see what I mean.
Vivian

==========
From:    Jonathon Osborne
Date:    Thursday, March 25, 1999 11:58 PM

Peter, I quite agree with the words in quotes. That always drives me crazy.

I like your re-write, except for this part:

...as a cock's crow rode in on a cool air...

This seems unclear to me. Did you mean he was only a short distance (as a crow flies)?

Ah-ha! Now that I've cut that part out from it's surrounding words, I think you meant he heard a rooster's crow. But I imagine most readers would skim over it and not dissect it to sort it out.

Jon

==========
Date:    Tuesday, March 30, 1999 05:53 PM

Jon,
Youíre right, I could have written that a little better. It was done late at night and I didnít catch it in the rewrite. Probably something better would be:
Oslef rubbed the grit from his eyes as a cockís crow rode out from the town on a cool air... or whatever.
Thanks for your comments.


==========
Date:    Tuesday, March 30, 1999 05:59 PM

Vivian,
It occurs to me that I might have been a little short or pompous in answering you--some of it due to being at the computer all day. If so I am sorry. Again, anything can work if it is done well. Something done with great style can break all the rules. What Iím trying to do here is give the best example for success for someone new to the game. Is this the only way? No. But I think has the best chance of catching an agentís or editorís eye.
Also, I do appreciate comments and otherís points of view, so if I was curt, please chalk it up to the hour.
Peter Abresch
Author of BLOODY BONSAI,
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc

==========
Date:    Tuesday, March 30, 1999 05:49 PM

Vivian,
Obvousily anything works that works, but it is my opinion that parenthesis and quotes around words only slow down writing. As for cliches, they always rob the work of spontaneity, and the only place I think they would belong is in dialogue, and that because we all often use cliches in speech.
From editors and agents Iíve talked to, one of the biggest turn-offs for them is a piece of work with a lot of cliches, unless, of course the cliches are used in an oddball way to bring about humor.
Peter Abresch
Author of BLOODY BONSAI,
the Jim Dandy ELDERHOSTEL Mysteries
& BookMarc
Logged
--
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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