Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Getting to the heart of the matter.

In the past few weeks I have read books by three different bestselling authors that were good in all the usual ways a book is good, yet some indefinable something was wrong with each of them. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem at first, and then I realized what it was. In one of the books written by a California writer, the main character ‘blew out air’ at frequent intervals, which was the author’s way of calling attention to his impatience. In another book, a girl narrowed her eyes frequently at her clueless boyfriend. In the third book, a rancher grunted a lot more than I do when I have a bad day. I wondered why these talented writers had made this particular mistake, and then as I continued to examine the passages, I think I discovered what it was.

There are as many different writing styles as there are writers, but all of us fall into only a few patterns. Shelby Foote, the well-known historian, is said to have composed everything in his head before he wrote it down in his calligraphic style, using a crow-quill pen he dipped into an inkwell. James A. Michener accumulated vast piles of notes, and then culled it down to the bones before he put it into its final form. Another writer, this one’s identity escapes me at the moment, claimed he wrote three pages at each session, then did a final edit before the end of the day. There is no ‘best’ way to write, but I think some writers could improve their edited work if they read rapidly through the almost edited manuscript. We are all told to read through our work slowly, meticulously, and to even go through it at least once reading it aloud. So what, you are wondering, is the benefit in reading it rapidly? The mistakes I mentioned early in this post occurred when the writer read the manuscript much slower than the average reader. Slow editing will not expose the oft-repeated phrases like ‘blew out air,’ nor are you likely to notice how many times the protagonist grunted. Edit your next manuscript slowly, patiently, and with great care, but somewhere in the process, give it a fast read as well. I bet you will find a number of unnoticed things if you read it the way your fans will be reading the published book.

Oh, and another thing. Now that you are finished with this post, get back to work. I have waited a lot longer than I wanted for that next book of yours, and I am growing impatient.


The Belle in Blue said...

These are things that a good critique group will always spot and point out to the author. Mine doesn't let me get away with letting my characters do too much snickering or giving too many sardonic smiles. Gee, sounds like all my characters are smart asses, huh? Better go check my WIP again! :-)

Cindy Sample said...

I wish Microsoft would develop personalized questions such as: Are you sure you want to use the word "strode."

I swear my hero needs to sit still and stop striding.