Thursday, January 10, 2008

Do-Overs!! by DL Larson

No, I don't mean a new hairstyle, I'm talking about the writer's gift of re-doing something when the plot, the characters, the whatever in your story doesn't work the way you envisioned it in your mind. Photographers call it touch-up, race car drivers call it souped-up, actors refer to it as rehearsals. Everyone has the opportunity to work and twist and tweek until their product is as perfect as they can make it. Writers are no exception.

Except too many of us think we're the only ones who have to rearrange words over and over and over and over again. And the sentences still don't read as we intended. Well, let me tell you a little secret ... if you want to succeed, then learn to enjoy the process of revisions. It is a great big part of writing. Revisions are too often compared with the one being stuck taking out the garbage. But what would our books look like, read like, if we didn't clean them up? Ugly, is the answer that came to my mind.

So, add garbage man to your list of duties as a writer. It may be hazardous on occasion, but the benefits are worthwhile. A good garbage man (woman if you prefer) is never in a hurry. Have you ever noticed the garbage truck racing down the street, the worker jumping from one dumpster to the next. No, he lumbers along at a steady pace, dumping every can, leaving nothing behind. You too can be an expert garbage man. You simply need practice.

Yep, you guessed it, the only way to become a great garbage man is by doing. No, you don't have to follow the big stinky truck around town to learn. Try reading your work aloud. You've probably heard this before, but have you actually spoken the words, listening for good cadence, weighing the length of your sentences, judging the variety of your action words? If you can't read but a few pages before stopping, your inner revisionist is trying to tell you something. Perhaps the words are too repetitive. Or you just don't have enough umph to your descriptions. Perhaps the storyline is not clear enough to keep the reader enthralled. Only you, garbage man, can decide what is trash and what is treasure.

Of course, another technique is to let your work set awhile, weeks if need be. And just like trash that's been around too long, the rot will curl your toes as it sits there on your page, ruining your great American novel. Most times you'll spot it quick, the clunky wording, the gaping jump from scene one to scene two; or the awkward transition from paragraph three that read so beautifully in your mind.

When I revise, I read my work over several times, each time looking for something specific. Verb usuage is a biggie, so are pronouns. Try this exercise: take a page of your manuscript and circle all the was, is, to be variations, those passive verbs. Then circle all the he, she, it was, there was, type of words. If many of the he/she begin your sentences - this may cause for boring reading. Try re-arranging your sentence structure to add variety and depth to your storyline. If you have several circles with it is/it was, there was, then you need to throw most of them out and find stronger words to continue your plot.

One last tidbit to share with you; again look over your pages and if you have lines up lines of paragraphs with no dialogue, decide if there might be a better way to extend this information rather than dumping it all on the reader. Ask yourself, am I showing the reader, or telling the reader? For me, I'd rather show the reader, than tell, if at all possible.

When I revise, I do the above techniques through several chapters at a time. I call it getting in the groove . I don't try to rush through, and after awhile it becomes a game like I SPY. I've gotten pretty good over the years, but something will inevitably sneak through. Please don't obsess. It's only words on paper. You can always do a do-over!

Til next time ~

DL Larson

PS: DL will be at the Authors Night, at Barnes & Noble in Deer Park on Feb. 7th, 7-9:00 p.m. Please stop by!

1 comment:

Margot Justes said...

Hi Deb,

I will be at the barnes & Noble in Deer Park.

See you February 7th.