Fluff and Stuff – Getting The Junk Out of the Trunk

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

Truer, writerly words have never been written. When editing, the rule of thumb is to eliminate any word that ends in the dreaded “-ly.”

I’ve been editing my completed novels (one for YEARS), and while the first pass-through with the red pen might include a perfunctory Microsoft Word Find and Replace of adverbs (and adjectives, the adverbs’ junky step-sibs), there are several other writing no-nos a serious writer might miss. (Easy to do in a shit-storm of fancy descriptors, believe me.)

However, Word’s Find and Replace is rudimentary. I also use Smart Edit, which takes your entire manuscripts and evaluates it for language redundancies. The first time I ran my words through, I realized (with dismay) that, yes, I really DO write like I speak. I cringed as I went through the work to tighten up my sloppy sentences. Some of my mistakes didn’t occur once, twice or three times, but HUNDREDS of times.

It’s nearly impossible to write 100K words and not use the same word or phrase a number of times, especially in dialogue. The reader learns about your characters through their speech. Still, nothing in the written word irritates me more than hum-drum prose, I didn’t want to sound boring. (My first incarnation of Cadence included several thousand uses of “family.” Oy. And OUCH.) With much thought, I kept most of my re-usable words down to 50 or less throughout the entire manuscript.

After you edit out the adverbs and adjectives, then the writer must take a look at the verbs. Passive verbs, a no-no-no. Finding Cadence was once full of passive verbs, perhaps because when I first started writing, Cadence was a passive woman, and I was a passive writer. While toughening her up, I became the warrior writer. All it took was to take the “was” out. “I was looking” turned into “I looked.” (This is a gross simplification, of course.) It’s so brainlessly easy, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

And of course, there are the weak, junky verbs: brought, came, enter, gave, held, go, turn, look, stare, watch, struck, ran, move, climb, remove, put, stand, saw. Weak verbs are precisely the reason why I reach for the Thesaurus.

Recently, I’ve taken to tightening up even more. I call this method of editing getting out the fluff and stuff. For one thing, I noticed that I use “something” and “everything” way too much, even in dialogue. I evaluated my usage: Perhaps the speaker knows what the “something” or “everything” is, but does the reader? Is it implied in a previous passage? If that’s the case, you don’t need it. If it’s not implied, it’s necessary to spell it out. Yes, I know what I’m seeing in my head, but the reader may not see it with the words I choose.

You’ll want to delete overused phrases – “at the end of the day” or “through the years” etc. and the purple-y, clumsy prose.

Editing out the fluff and stuff isn’t easy. It may be a harder edit to accomplish. You’ve been looking at your words for months (or in my case, YEARS). You’re invested in your character, you think about the time you’ve spent, the blood, sweat and tears and labor pains. It’s a lot to push that all aside and do the right thing. (And if you’re like me, you’re a horrible proofreader anyway.) What I’ve found is that my paragraphs are lean and mean, and I’ve managed to pare down my word count. (Yes, I’m paring DOWN. I have too many words!)

My advice is to take the plunge. It may take a lot to trim and tone, but in the end, it might be the best exercise your manuscript will ever get.



Getting in the Mood to Write

I’ve been thinking about Cadence a lot in the last week, although not really working on the book. I have definite plans and want to play with them in my head before I sit down and get to work.

If I’d only known then what I know now. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me a little under two years to complete this work.

The truth is, Cadence wasn’t easy to write. It wasn’t fun, because this woman goes through an incredible trauma. In order to get to the emotion I wanted to convey, I had to go into a deep dark place inside myself. Going there was treacherous.

I had to get there to write a reasonably true account. But in the meantime, while I was there, these dark shadows would spill out into my “real” life. I was moody, sad and reflective, and though I tried to keep those things on the page only, it was difficult to divide my feelings.

That’s why the first four chapters of Oaks and Acorns was such a relief. Each time I closed my laptop after working on it, I felt playful and buoyant, not depressed.

I really believe in Finding Cadence, in the story and its message, and I want to see it to its fruition in print someday. So it’s back to the drawing board, back to the salt mine, back to work.

To get back into the darkness of Cadence, I wrote a disturbing story over the weekend about a woman who contemplates jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It was strange, but such a depressing subject actually felt good.

Wish me luck.

Rewrites and Re-Rites

After returning from the writers conference, I took a short break from Finding Cadence to work on the next novel, Oaks and Acorns. Cadence was full of angst and suffering, which is probably why it took me two years to write, and O&A is completely different. It’s going to be chick-lit all the way — fun, sassy and sexy.

One of my online friends from across the state, Jessie, is helping me with the “pre-edit” — that is, my rewrite before I send the book on for more serious editing. Both of us have “real” lives, so she’s sending me a couple of chapters at a time. Heck, do I mind? I’m getting input and advice for free. Thank you, Jessie. 🙂

This week, I’m going to deconstruct Cadence. I can’t let it wait any longer. At 175K words, it’s a monster. I learned at the conference that no one is going to publish a book of that size, unless the author’s name happens to be Joyce Carol Oates or Pat Conroy. Unfortunately, I’m saddled with my own name.

I somehow got into a great groove writing Cadence. It took me almost two years to find that groove, one where I will sit down and write at least a thousand words a day. I credit NaNoWriMo, because during November I managed to write 50K words in thirty days. Before that, I would maybe work on it a couple times a month.

The last month has been a vacation of sorts. I played with my new characters, and played on the computer far too much. I have fallen back into my past bad habits of laziness and procrastination. But, I promise to snap out of it, starting today, and to post regular updates.

In the meantime, I’ve made out a list of the technical problems. I have some things happening in the beginning that don’t appear later. These should be thrown out. Then I have some things later that should really be mentioned in the beginning. And Chapter Two has to go. Well, for now. I’m saving it for possible use later.