Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I've done far too many technical grammar posts lately. It's high time I have a little fun, and Frankie's Literary Heartthrob Blogfest seemed just the ticket. She invited participants to write love letters to literary characters they consider swoon-worthy. Swing on by Frankie Writes to see the list of participants and read their fun letters.

I have to admit, I gave my heart young to a book boy and none other has yet replaced him. So here's my gooey gush to my beloved Theodore Laurence from Alcott's Little Women.

Images from christianbale.net

~ ~ ~ ~

My dearest Teddy,

It is you who filled my dreams from the tender age of 10, when I met you dallying with those March girls who lived next door. I immediately felt a connection because we shared the nickname "Laurie." But it was so much more than that, Teddy.

From your very first scene at the Christmas party dance, you seemed to me the perfect boy--shy, kind, funny, full imagination and prone to harmless mischief. You knew just how to put Jo at ease. Your dialogue sparkled with wit and fun.

You made the hardship of war lighter for the Marches and remained a steady friend to the whole family. Though you came from privilege, you didn't lord it over them. And while you could have had your pick of stylish young ladies, your first love was the awkward, bookish, overly imaginative tomboy. To a girl like me--one with perpetually twig-tangled hair who immersed herself in stories and followed her big brother like a puppy--you were a revelation. Somewhere in the world there were boys like you who liked girls like me. And I wouldn't have to contort myself into corsets and button boots to win that love.

You changed and grew over the course of the story, Teddy, and I admired that very much about you. And though I found many of your faults charming, I agree with Amy's assertion that there's nothing more aggravating in a man than passivity and laziness. It was gratifying to see you work hard to regain her good opinion rather than stubbornly continue on your course toward total dissipation.

You had the impeccable good taste to marry the family baby, the one everyone mocks and belittles--even her creator Ms. Alcott! You could see that we last-borns have big hearts and big ambitions and are not the silly pets our families take us for. I love you for that insight, Teddy.

I think it was seeing you embodied on the screen by this handsome Bale fellow that secured your place in my heart for good. He captured so well your expressive lightheartedness, smile that lights your whole face, and ability to tempestuously suffer. And does he ever rock a cravat and frock coat. Sigh.

We have a son, Teddy, you and I. I named him after you, though he doesn't hate the moniker like you do. He has your sense of humor, kindness, dogged persistence and tendency to give away his heart a little too easily. He speaks fluent French, of course, because you do. He's also opinionated and a champion moper when things don't go his way. I gave him sisters because the March girls were so instrumental to your becoming a good man. He also loves an artist girl like your Amy, who similarly challenges him. I hope my readers will find him as thoroughly Theodorable as you are.

I will carry you in my heart always, Teddy. Forever you remain my first and best book love.

Yours,
Laurel
Wednesday, June 30, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've done far too many technical grammar posts lately. It's high time I have a little fun, and Frankie's Literary Heartthrob Blogfest seemed just the ticket. She invited participants to write love letters to literary characters they consider swoon-worthy. Swing on by Frankie Writes to see the list of participants and read their fun letters.

I have to admit, I gave my heart young to a book boy and none other has yet replaced him. So here's my gooey gush to my beloved Theodore Laurence from Alcott's Little Women.

Images from christianbale.net

~ ~ ~ ~

My dearest Teddy,

It is you who filled my dreams from the tender age of 10, when I met you dallying with those March girls who lived next door. I immediately felt a connection because we shared the nickname "Laurie." But it was so much more than that, Teddy.

From your very first scene at the Christmas party dance, you seemed to me the perfect boy--shy, kind, funny, full imagination and prone to harmless mischief. You knew just how to put Jo at ease. Your dialogue sparkled with wit and fun.

You made the hardship of war lighter for the Marches and remained a steady friend to the whole family. Though you came from privilege, you didn't lord it over them. And while you could have had your pick of stylish young ladies, your first love was the awkward, bookish, overly imaginative tomboy. To a girl like me--one with perpetually twig-tangled hair who immersed herself in stories and followed her big brother like a puppy--you were a revelation. Somewhere in the world there were boys like you who liked girls like me. And I wouldn't have to contort myself into corsets and button boots to win that love.

You changed and grew over the course of the story, Teddy, and I admired that very much about you. And though I found many of your faults charming, I agree with Amy's assertion that there's nothing more aggravating in a man than passivity and laziness. It was gratifying to see you work hard to regain her good opinion rather than stubbornly continue on your course toward total dissipation.

You had the impeccable good taste to marry the family baby, the one everyone mocks and belittles--even her creator Ms. Alcott! You could see that we last-borns have big hearts and big ambitions and are not the silly pets our families take us for. I love you for that insight, Teddy.

I think it was seeing you embodied on the screen by this handsome Bale fellow that secured your place in my heart for good. He captured so well your expressive lightheartedness, smile that lights your whole face, and ability to tempestuously suffer. And does he ever rock a cravat and frock coat. Sigh.

We have a son, Teddy, you and I. I named him after you, though he doesn't hate the moniker like you do. He has your sense of humor, kindness, dogged persistence and tendency to give away his heart a little too easily. He speaks fluent French, of course, because you do. He's also opinionated and a champion moper when things don't go his way. I gave him sisters because the March girls were so instrumental to your becoming a good man. He also loves an artist girl like your Amy, who similarly challenges him. I hope my readers will find him as thoroughly Theodorable as you are.

I will carry you in my heart always, Teddy. Forever you remain my first and best book love.

Yours,
Laurel

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dear Editor-on-call,

I got this comment in a critique of mine and I have NO idea what it means. Could you shed some light? I feel so stupid, but I just don't get the terminology: "Misplaced modifiers. I’m seeing this phenomenon all the time with my clients! You do this just a little, but watch your antecedents."

Sincerely,
Mystified about Modifiers

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Mystified,

Your knuckle-rapping English teachers were trying to break you of this problem when they made you diagram sentences. You might have vague memories of identifying sentence parts as subject, verb, object. Each of these sentence parts can have modifiers--words or phrases that tell details about them.

Problems arise when those details are not close enough to the word they describe. The resulting sentences can be confusing at best, and inadvertently hilarious at worst.

Let's look at some examples.

Subject modifier misplaced

Example: The boy chased the cat who had asthma.

Whoops--Asthmatic kitties are not too common (though friends of mine work for a recording label by that name). The modifier needs to move closer to the subject, "the boy."

Revised: The boy who had asthma chased the cat.
Alternate: The asthmatic boy chased the cat.

Example: Growling and snapping, Melody was stalked by the werewolf.

Whoops--Is Mel trying to confuse the predator? More likely the writer doesn't realize the subject and object are in the wrong order.

Revised: Growling and snapping, the werewolf stalked Melody.


Example: Walking along the bridge, a ship suddenly appeared.

Whoops--Is The Ship Who Walked related to Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang? You've got either some really wacky personification or a sentence with an unclear subject. I chose the latter.

This example is what's usually called a "dangling modifier"--the part of speech being described is actually missing. This sentence needs an actor walking and seeing that ship appear. Here are three ways to resolve the issue:

Revised: Walking along the bridge, the captain saw a ship suddenly appear.
Alternate: A ship suddenly appeared while the captain was walking along the bridge.
Alternate 2: As the captain walked along the bridge, a ship suddenly appeared.

Verb modifier misplaced

Example: He kept a black book of all the girls he had dated in his desk.

Whoops--It might get a mite crowded in there among the paperclips! That directional "in his desk" needs to be closer to the verb "kept."

Revised: He kept in his desk a black book of all the girls he'd dated.
Alternate: In his desk, he kept a black book of all the girls he had dated.
Alternate 2 (with a shifting emphasis): There in Jason's desk drawer was his black book--a list of all the girls he'd dated.


Example: Larry told me he was getting married that afternoon at night.

Whoops--When the heck is the wedding?? Oy vey. Please separate the time of the telling from the information told. "That afternoon" modifies "told," describing when Larry gave information.

Revised: That afternoon, Larry told me he was getting married at night.
Alternate: That afternoon, Larry told me about his plans for a nighttime wedding.

Object modifier misplaced

Example: You need someone to carry that load with a strong back.

Whoops--It the load is so strong, why can't it carry itself? The modifier "with a strong back" needs to move closer to the object of the sentence, "someone."

Revised: You need someone with a strong back to carry that load.


Example: I showed my dog to the veterinarian with the fleas.

Whoops--That poor, itchy vet! Sounds like he's been infested. In this case, it's the object "my dog" that needs to be closer to its modifier "with the fleas."

Revised: I showed the veterinarian my dog with the fleas.

Word order problems

Limiting modifiers can change the meaning of a sentence depending on where they are placed. Some words to beware of: only, not only, just, not just, almost, hardly, nearly, even, exactly, merely, scarcely, and simply.

Below are examples of how a sentence's meaning can change when one moves around a limiting modifier.

Subject modified:
Just Evan drank a Coke.
(No others drank Coke, only Evan did.)

Verb modified:
Evan just drank a Coke.
(Others had a big bar brawl while Evan sat there sipping his cola.)

Object modified:
Evan drank just a Coke.
(Others had vodka tonics, but Evan? Just Coke.)

Squinting modifiers are modifying phrases that could modify more than one part of a sentence. Clarity problems arise when you place them near to both possible choices.

Example: She said on Sunday she would call.

Whoops--Did she say it on Sunday? Or is she going to call on Sunday? We don’t know. The phrase “on Sunday” could modify “said” or it could modify “would call.” Revising sentences like this usually requires adding words to make clear who's doing what and when.

Revised: On Sunday, she said she would call me soon.
Alternate: On Sunday, she said, "I'll call you."

To capture the other possible meaning, try these revisions:
Revised: She just said she would call me Sunday night.
Alternate: She said, "I'll call you on Sunday."


Hope that provides the clarity you were seeking.

As a side note, your editor friend was misusing the grammar term "antecedent" to mean "a thing referred to." The term should only be used when discussing pronouns. The correct grammatical term for something being modified is "headword."

Cheers,
Laurel


Which of these areas trip you up? Any other helpful pointers for correctly placing modifiers with their headwords?
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-call,

I got this comment in a critique of mine and I have NO idea what it means. Could you shed some light? I feel so stupid, but I just don't get the terminology: "Misplaced modifiers. I’m seeing this phenomenon all the time with my clients! You do this just a little, but watch your antecedents."

Sincerely,
Mystified about Modifiers

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Mystified,

Your knuckle-rapping English teachers were trying to break you of this problem when they made you diagram sentences. You might have vague memories of identifying sentence parts as subject, verb, object. Each of these sentence parts can have modifiers--words or phrases that tell details about them.

Problems arise when those details are not close enough to the word they describe. The resulting sentences can be confusing at best, and inadvertently hilarious at worst.

Let's look at some examples.

Subject modifier misplaced

Example: The boy chased the cat who had asthma.

Whoops--Asthmatic kitties are not too common (though friends of mine work for a recording label by that name). The modifier needs to move closer to the subject, "the boy."

Revised: The boy who had asthma chased the cat.
Alternate: The asthmatic boy chased the cat.

Example: Growling and snapping, Melody was stalked by the werewolf.

Whoops--Is Mel trying to confuse the predator? More likely the writer doesn't realize the subject and object are in the wrong order.

Revised: Growling and snapping, the werewolf stalked Melody.


Example: Walking along the bridge, a ship suddenly appeared.

Whoops--Is The Ship Who Walked related to Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang? You've got either some really wacky personification or a sentence with an unclear subject. I chose the latter.

This example is what's usually called a "dangling modifier"--the part of speech being described is actually missing. This sentence needs an actor walking and seeing that ship appear. Here are three ways to resolve the issue:

Revised: Walking along the bridge, the captain saw a ship suddenly appear.
Alternate: A ship suddenly appeared while the captain was walking along the bridge.
Alternate 2: As the captain walked along the bridge, a ship suddenly appeared.

Verb modifier misplaced

Example: He kept a black book of all the girls he had dated in his desk.

Whoops--It might get a mite crowded in there among the paperclips! That directional "in his desk" needs to be closer to the verb "kept."

Revised: He kept in his desk a black book of all the girls he'd dated.
Alternate: In his desk, he kept a black book of all the girls he had dated.
Alternate 2 (with a shifting emphasis): There in Jason's desk drawer was his black book--a list of all the girls he'd dated.


Example: Larry told me he was getting married that afternoon at night.

Whoops--When the heck is the wedding?? Oy vey. Please separate the time of the telling from the information told. "That afternoon" modifies "told," describing when Larry gave information.

Revised: That afternoon, Larry told me he was getting married at night.
Alternate: That afternoon, Larry told me about his plans for a nighttime wedding.

Object modifier misplaced

Example: You need someone to carry that load with a strong back.

Whoops--It the load is so strong, why can't it carry itself? The modifier "with a strong back" needs to move closer to the object of the sentence, "someone."

Revised: You need someone with a strong back to carry that load.


Example: I showed my dog to the veterinarian with the fleas.

Whoops--That poor, itchy vet! Sounds like he's been infested. In this case, it's the object "my dog" that needs to be closer to its modifier "with the fleas."

Revised: I showed the veterinarian my dog with the fleas.

Word order problems

Limiting modifiers can change the meaning of a sentence depending on where they are placed. Some words to beware of: only, not only, just, not just, almost, hardly, nearly, even, exactly, merely, scarcely, and simply.

Below are examples of how a sentence's meaning can change when one moves around a limiting modifier.

Subject modified:
Just Evan drank a Coke.
(No others drank Coke, only Evan did.)

Verb modified:
Evan just drank a Coke.
(Others had a big bar brawl while Evan sat there sipping his cola.)

Object modified:
Evan drank just a Coke.
(Others had vodka tonics, but Evan? Just Coke.)

Squinting modifiers are modifying phrases that could modify more than one part of a sentence. Clarity problems arise when you place them near to both possible choices.

Example: She said on Sunday she would call.

Whoops--Did she say it on Sunday? Or is she going to call on Sunday? We don’t know. The phrase “on Sunday” could modify “said” or it could modify “would call.” Revising sentences like this usually requires adding words to make clear who's doing what and when.

Revised: On Sunday, she said she would call me soon.
Alternate: On Sunday, she said, "I'll call you."

To capture the other possible meaning, try these revisions:
Revised: She just said she would call me Sunday night.
Alternate: She said, "I'll call you on Sunday."


Hope that provides the clarity you were seeking.

As a side note, your editor friend was misusing the grammar term "antecedent" to mean "a thing referred to." The term should only be used when discussing pronouns. The correct grammatical term for something being modified is "headword."

Cheers,
Laurel


Which of these areas trip you up? Any other helpful pointers for correctly placing modifiers with their headwords?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcome to part 5 of my series on overwriting. In case you missed the earlier posts in the series, here are the links:

Part 1- Overwriting: What is it?
Part 2- Overwriting: Diction
Part 3- Overwriting: Babbling
Part 4- Overwriting: Tangents

Today we get down and dirty with grammar as we look at common causes of wordiness. Many of these things are not grammatically incorrect and some may have a place in your writing. Just keep in mind that wordy constructions usually reduce clarity and feel overwritten. Trimming and revising wordy sentences will improve flow and pacing.

Nominals
Beware of these “nouned verbs,” words created by adding suffixes to verbs, such as completion, deliverance, and agreement. They can sound ponderous and clunky. They’re also often a sign of passive writing, in which the subject is buried, typically within a prepositional phrase.

To repair the problem, identify who’s acting, make him the subject and convert the nominal to its verb form.

Whenever possible, replace nominal constructions like “be appreciative of” with the simple verb, in this case “appreciate.”

Examples
Strict enforcement of the speed limit by the police will cause a reduction in traffic fatalities.
Revised: Officers strictly enforcing the speed limit will reduce traffic fatalities.

Olivia’s friends are supportive of her in every way.
Revised: Olivia’s friends support her in every way.

Expletives
“Expletives,” meant in the grammatical sense of “explaining,” use “there” or “it” with a form of “to be” and frequently add unnecessary words. Notice that expletives like to pair with nominals.

To repair the problem, move the subject to the fore and let it act with a strong verb. At times, adverbs can combat the problem, too.

Examples
There were fifty people in attendance at the meeting.
Revised: Fifty people attended the meeting.

There is a light breeze that is shivering among the branches.
Revised: A light breeze shivers among the branches.

It is apparent that the team members can’t agree.
Revised: Apparently, the team can’t agree.

Dependent clauses
Beware of unnecessary dependent clauses. You can usually eliminate them and they’re easy to find—search for frequent repetition of “who” and “that” followed by forms of “to be.”

Examples
Carrie recognized the dog who was chasing Leah.
Revised: Carrie recognized the dog chasing Leah.

Joe wants a medication that is prescribed by a physician.
Revised: Joe wants a medication prescribed by a physician.
Alternate: Joe wants a prescription medication.

Anyone who is willing to work hard will succeed in this class.
Revised: Anyone willing to work hard will succeed in this class.

Other perpetrators
A few other wordy constructions to watch for:

Using “to be” with “going to” rather than “will”

I am going to think about it.
Revised: I’ll think about it.

Paul is never going to buy that idea.
Revised: Paul will never buy that idea.
Alternate: Paul won’t ever buy that idea.

Using “would like to” instead of “want”

Casey would like to wear matching outfits.
Revised: Casey wants to wear matching outfits.

Adding unnecessary descriptions when meaning is clear from context

Gilbert put his shoes on his feet.
Revised: Gilbert put on his shoes.

If you can think of others, please drop a note in the comments.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Thursday, June 24, 2010 Laurel Garver
Welcome to part 5 of my series on overwriting. In case you missed the earlier posts in the series, here are the links:

Part 1- Overwriting: What is it?
Part 2- Overwriting: Diction
Part 3- Overwriting: Babbling
Part 4- Overwriting: Tangents

Today we get down and dirty with grammar as we look at common causes of wordiness. Many of these things are not grammatically incorrect and some may have a place in your writing. Just keep in mind that wordy constructions usually reduce clarity and feel overwritten. Trimming and revising wordy sentences will improve flow and pacing.

Nominals
Beware of these “nouned verbs,” words created by adding suffixes to verbs, such as completion, deliverance, and agreement. They can sound ponderous and clunky. They’re also often a sign of passive writing, in which the subject is buried, typically within a prepositional phrase.

To repair the problem, identify who’s acting, make him the subject and convert the nominal to its verb form.

Whenever possible, replace nominal constructions like “be appreciative of” with the simple verb, in this case “appreciate.”

Examples
Strict enforcement of the speed limit by the police will cause a reduction in traffic fatalities.
Revised: Officers strictly enforcing the speed limit will reduce traffic fatalities.

Olivia’s friends are supportive of her in every way.
Revised: Olivia’s friends support her in every way.

Expletives
“Expletives,” meant in the grammatical sense of “explaining,” use “there” or “it” with a form of “to be” and frequently add unnecessary words. Notice that expletives like to pair with nominals.

To repair the problem, move the subject to the fore and let it act with a strong verb. At times, adverbs can combat the problem, too.

Examples
There were fifty people in attendance at the meeting.
Revised: Fifty people attended the meeting.

There is a light breeze that is shivering among the branches.
Revised: A light breeze shivers among the branches.

It is apparent that the team members can’t agree.
Revised: Apparently, the team can’t agree.

Dependent clauses
Beware of unnecessary dependent clauses. You can usually eliminate them and they’re easy to find—search for frequent repetition of “who” and “that” followed by forms of “to be.”

Examples
Carrie recognized the dog who was chasing Leah.
Revised: Carrie recognized the dog chasing Leah.

Joe wants a medication that is prescribed by a physician.
Revised: Joe wants a medication prescribed by a physician.
Alternate: Joe wants a prescription medication.

Anyone who is willing to work hard will succeed in this class.
Revised: Anyone willing to work hard will succeed in this class.

Other perpetrators
A few other wordy constructions to watch for:

Using “to be” with “going to” rather than “will”

I am going to think about it.
Revised: I’ll think about it.

Paul is never going to buy that idea.
Revised: Paul will never buy that idea.
Alternate: Paul won’t ever buy that idea.

Using “would like to” instead of “want”

Casey would like to wear matching outfits.
Revised: Casey wants to wear matching outfits.

Adding unnecessary descriptions when meaning is clear from context

Gilbert put his shoes on his feet.
Revised: Gilbert put on his shoes.

If you can think of others, please drop a note in the comments.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quick question of the day: have you or will you use comparison books in your query letter?

What if it's extremely difficult to find a few apt comparisons? I think my work is a little bit like about six current YA authors, but not strongly like any one or two. My approach and themes and plot are most similar to Susan Howatch, whose adult literary/mainstream crossover Starbridge series books were huge bestsellers in the early 1990s. But would most agents care or be the least bit excited by the prospect of someone writing Howatch-like stories for teens? Is this comparison too dated? Or does the fact of her enormous commercial success bolster my chances?

Would it be most wise to leave this part out of the query, since it could confuse rather than clarify?

Opinions?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 Laurel Garver
Quick question of the day: have you or will you use comparison books in your query letter?

What if it's extremely difficult to find a few apt comparisons? I think my work is a little bit like about six current YA authors, but not strongly like any one or two. My approach and themes and plot are most similar to Susan Howatch, whose adult literary/mainstream crossover Starbridge series books were huge bestsellers in the early 1990s. But would most agents care or be the least bit excited by the prospect of someone writing Howatch-like stories for teens? Is this comparison too dated? Or does the fact of her enormous commercial success bolster my chances?

Would it be most wise to leave this part out of the query, since it could confuse rather than clarify?

Opinions?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dear Editor-on-Call,

I was just asked to beta read a piece from a very good writer friend and lo and behold, she is an overwriter. I am, too, to some extent, but this is excessive. Of course, I want to be gentle when I send this back, but if I was completely honest, I would be bleeding all over the page. Personally, I relish crits that I get back covered in red, because I see it as an awesome learning experience, but others are quite a bit more sensitive than I am. I'm worried that she is one of the sensitive ones. Egads, I don't know what to do here. Do you have any advice?

Sincerely,
Wannabe Gracious

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Gracious,

I've faced this issue before, too. And I'm a recovering overwriter myself. I'd suggest refraining from line editing the whole piece at this stage. General comments and especially questions will be more helpful to your friend, and less likely to wound. Something along the lines of "you have some very vivid descriptions here, and some that I think would feel stronger if you pared them back," then line edit a sentence to show what you mean. In areas where she describes the same thing six ways, try a margin question: which of these best captures your idea here? You can also recommend that she take a look at Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Manuscript Makeover, which will provide great guidance for the revision process.

Especially encourage her to trust the reader more, and to strive for clarity and simplicity. Be sure to sandwich the idea of "you need to trim and simplify" with encouragement about what she does right: her characters are likeable, her emotions real, her humor funny, her plot attention-grabbing and the like. Overwriting is so often a sign of lack of confidence. Build her up in the right way, and she'll find the courage to trim.

Cheers,
Laurel

Any other sage words for this advice-seeker? How do you typically approach critiquing an overwriter?

Any other pressing questions you'd like me to address in a future post? Send them to me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

I'm out of town for the weekend and may not respond to comments till Sunday or Monday.
Friday, June 18, 2010 Laurel Garver
Dear Editor-on-Call,

I was just asked to beta read a piece from a very good writer friend and lo and behold, she is an overwriter. I am, too, to some extent, but this is excessive. Of course, I want to be gentle when I send this back, but if I was completely honest, I would be bleeding all over the page. Personally, I relish crits that I get back covered in red, because I see it as an awesome learning experience, but others are quite a bit more sensitive than I am. I'm worried that she is one of the sensitive ones. Egads, I don't know what to do here. Do you have any advice?

Sincerely,
Wannabe Gracious

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dear Gracious,

I've faced this issue before, too. And I'm a recovering overwriter myself. I'd suggest refraining from line editing the whole piece at this stage. General comments and especially questions will be more helpful to your friend, and less likely to wound. Something along the lines of "you have some very vivid descriptions here, and some that I think would feel stronger if you pared them back," then line edit a sentence to show what you mean. In areas where she describes the same thing six ways, try a margin question: which of these best captures your idea here? You can also recommend that she take a look at Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Manuscript Makeover, which will provide great guidance for the revision process.

Especially encourage her to trust the reader more, and to strive for clarity and simplicity. Be sure to sandwich the idea of "you need to trim and simplify" with encouragement about what she does right: her characters are likeable, her emotions real, her humor funny, her plot attention-grabbing and the like. Overwriting is so often a sign of lack of confidence. Build her up in the right way, and she'll find the courage to trim.

Cheers,
Laurel

Any other sage words for this advice-seeker? How do you typically approach critiquing an overwriter?

Any other pressing questions you'd like me to address in a future post? Send them to me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com.

I'm out of town for the weekend and may not respond to comments till Sunday or Monday.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I've rewritten my novel significantly enough that I've jettisoned all my marketing materials--the query letter and 2-page and 5-page synposis--from my first round of unsuccessful querying last year. I'm starting again from scratch and hope to make my new marketing materials as shiny as my rewritten manuscript.

Tell me, friends, which resources you've found most helpful in crafting your query and synopsis! Any specific tips you can share that you learned that hard way that aren't in most guides?
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've rewritten my novel significantly enough that I've jettisoned all my marketing materials--the query letter and 2-page and 5-page synposis--from my first round of unsuccessful querying last year. I'm starting again from scratch and hope to make my new marketing materials as shiny as my rewritten manuscript.

Tell me, friends, which resources you've found most helpful in crafting your query and synopsis! Any specific tips you can share that you learned that hard way that aren't in most guides?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'll be picking up the final installment of my overwriting series probably next week, when life isn't quite so crazy. If you missed it, I posted Overwriting (part 4): Tangents last Thursday.

Part of my current time pressures is a stack of page proofs from the compositor (160 pages or so) I need to proofread for work. Some of my newer followers might not know I've worked as an editor for over 15 years, largely in trade and association publishing. I currently work on a scholarly journal that publishes literary criticism on the modernist period (early 20th century). Taking my current job required a huge shift in my thinking about my role as an editor.

Most magazines operate on a journalistic model of editing. This means the ultimate responsibility for things like factual accuracy and avoiding slander or plagiarism lies in the editors' hands. Misspellings are not ultimately the author's fault, even if she originated the mistake. In this model, editors are also responsible for adherence to style guidelines and publication "voice." Thus for much of my career, I've had to rewrite every piece that ever crossed my desk.

In scholarly publishing, I'm merely a conduit who takes scholars' work and gently nudges it to publishable form. We don't have a publication "voice." If MLA doesn't nix a particular stylistic issue, I don't really have the freedom to tweak it in a manuscript just because I think it sounds pompous. Instead, I have to work with each author's style and ensure that the piece is readable and adequately referenced, which means unlearning some of the heavy-handed approach to editing required in previous jobs.

When it comes to critiquing others' work, I still struggle with the journalistic editor in me that wants to dig in and rewrite. But that isn't really my role. The responsibility for the form and content ultimately lies with the author. As I critique a manuscript, I can suggest, nudge, question and point out legitimate errors (head hopping, grammar and punctuation errors, POV shifts), but I shouldn't ever behave as if my way of writing the same story is "house voice" and "house style" and insist my critique partners' work adhere to that standard.

The unlearning involved--especially throwing off my sense of responsibility--is still a struggle. If you've ever let me critique your work, know that I can at times invest too heavily in what you're doing. I have to keep reminding myself there's no unpleasable editor-in-chief waiting to pounce on me for missing something. The work is ultimately your baby, your responsibility.

What influences your approach to critiquing others' work? What do you think makes the critiques you receive "good" or "bad"?
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 Laurel Garver
I'll be picking up the final installment of my overwriting series probably next week, when life isn't quite so crazy. If you missed it, I posted Overwriting (part 4): Tangents last Thursday.

Part of my current time pressures is a stack of page proofs from the compositor (160 pages or so) I need to proofread for work. Some of my newer followers might not know I've worked as an editor for over 15 years, largely in trade and association publishing. I currently work on a scholarly journal that publishes literary criticism on the modernist period (early 20th century). Taking my current job required a huge shift in my thinking about my role as an editor.

Most magazines operate on a journalistic model of editing. This means the ultimate responsibility for things like factual accuracy and avoiding slander or plagiarism lies in the editors' hands. Misspellings are not ultimately the author's fault, even if she originated the mistake. In this model, editors are also responsible for adherence to style guidelines and publication "voice." Thus for much of my career, I've had to rewrite every piece that ever crossed my desk.

In scholarly publishing, I'm merely a conduit who takes scholars' work and gently nudges it to publishable form. We don't have a publication "voice." If MLA doesn't nix a particular stylistic issue, I don't really have the freedom to tweak it in a manuscript just because I think it sounds pompous. Instead, I have to work with each author's style and ensure that the piece is readable and adequately referenced, which means unlearning some of the heavy-handed approach to editing required in previous jobs.

When it comes to critiquing others' work, I still struggle with the journalistic editor in me that wants to dig in and rewrite. But that isn't really my role. The responsibility for the form and content ultimately lies with the author. As I critique a manuscript, I can suggest, nudge, question and point out legitimate errors (head hopping, grammar and punctuation errors, POV shifts), but I shouldn't ever behave as if my way of writing the same story is "house voice" and "house style" and insist my critique partners' work adhere to that standard.

The unlearning involved--especially throwing off my sense of responsibility--is still a struggle. If you've ever let me critique your work, know that I can at times invest too heavily in what you're doing. I have to keep reminding myself there's no unpleasable editor-in-chief waiting to pounce on me for missing something. The work is ultimately your baby, your responsibility.

What influences your approach to critiquing others' work? What do you think makes the critiques you receive "good" or "bad"?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anyone else hate the word "literally"? I avoid using it at all, it makes me that crazy. Would you believe venerated writes including Austen, Twain, Alcott and Fitzgerald have all misused the word--treating it as if it meant "figuratively"? Check out THIS post from Slate magazine for the skinny on "literally" and how writers for centuries have decried its use as a contranym (think "cleave," which means to cut in half as well as to cling).

What are your thoughts? Should the term be used only to mean "by the letter"? Should writers avoid the word entirely as overused and cliche? Is this just another example of fluidity of language--and "literally" should now be seen as an intensifier that functions like "really"?
Saturday, June 12, 2010 Laurel Garver
Anyone else hate the word "literally"? I avoid using it at all, it makes me that crazy. Would you believe venerated writes including Austen, Twain, Alcott and Fitzgerald have all misused the word--treating it as if it meant "figuratively"? Check out THIS post from Slate magazine for the skinny on "literally" and how writers for centuries have decried its use as a contranym (think "cleave," which means to cut in half as well as to cling).

What are your thoughts? Should the term be used only to mean "by the letter"? Should writers avoid the word entirely as overused and cliche? Is this just another example of fluidity of language--and "literally" should now be seen as an intensifier that functions like "really"?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If you're just now joining us, I've been doing a series on the problem of "overwriting" and how to repair work suffering from this malady.

Here are the links to my earlier posts in the series:

Part 1- Overwriting: What is is?
Part 2- Overwriting: Diction
Part 3- Overwriting: Babbling

Today we come to tangents, a term you might associate with geometry. My MC, an arty New York girl, struggles terribly with geometry in particular and with numbers generally. When she initially signed up for classes, she was sure shape-related math would be breeze-easy for her arty brain.

See, friends? This is how tangents worm their way into your work! It's exceedingly easy for one thought to trigger another, unrelated one. Suddenly you've dropped down a rabbit hole into Wonderland.

I don't yet have a fail-safe for preventing these mental hiccups while drafting. But I have found that longhand free writing warm-ups help me gain focus before diving into a real manuscript in process.

There are a number of places tangents often appear in my work: moving from here to there, dialogue transitions, descriptions and internal monologue. Let's look at each.

Movement
Beginning writers often falsely believe they have to account for the MC's every move. Thus they write some intensely boring descriptions of waiting for the bus, or bickering with siblings in the car, or roaming soulless suburban subdivisions.

Unless something plot-twisting happens during movement, cut these yawn-inducing scenes. Instead, use narrative summary to get your character to the location where important action will occur. Remember that not everything your character does merits being dramatized (like potty breaks, for example).

Examples
My thighs are burning by the time pedal to the top of Breach Point.

When we return to Caitlin's place, she's sitting on the porch smoking.

The windows are dark when I reach the rectory. So far, so good.


Dialogue transitions
In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin spend a day with the Ents' Council and learn from Treebeard that it took from mid-morning till dusk for the Ents to complete their initial hellos. Are your dialogue scenes like this? Wasting a full page each on saying hello and goodbye?

Maybe your dialogue gets tangential in the middle, when one character wants to change the subject and fearing a non sequitur, you waste line after line moving from one topic to the next.

How do you repair this? Mix in other narrative techniques: narrative summary, thought, action.

Examples
To skip lengthy meet and greets:
Once everyone was introduced, Penny said...

We exchanged the usual BS about track and chem before I got the nerve to ask, "You think that guy we saw last night was breaking the law?"

To suddenly shift topics with thought:
Jerome was not going there with this girl. "So, what'd you think of Hayden's plan?"

Was he flirting with me? No freaking way. "I, um, just get headaches from ponytails after a while."

To suddenly shift topics with action:
Izzy checked her watch. "Well, look at the time. You give any thought yet to our project?"

Vic's phone buzzed in his pocket. "Shoot, that's my dad. He's probably hyperventilating that we still haven't found Kip."

Descriptions
Descriptive tangents are probably the easiest to identify. Your character might begin describing the lay of the land then expound a full-blown encyclopedia entry of your setting--its climate, topography, architecture, history, etc., ad nauseum. Or your heroine the fashionista savors every last detail of every outfit worn by every guest at a party.

It's so easy to get carried away in loving your fictional world. Just remember that your reader will savor more of the flavor if you sprinkle shorter descriptions all through the work. For more help with punchy descriptions, see my post "Engaging Descriptions Readers Won't Just Skim."

Internal monologue
Exploring your character's inner world in all its rich vagaries might be fun for you, but as a reader I frankly don't give a rip if those thoughts go absolutely nowhere. Character monologues must have multiple purposes in the narrative or they're just filler. Revealing personality alone is not enough.

Monologues must drive the narrative by revealing inner tensions, moral dilemmas, past wounds, drives, desires, attitudes, prejudices, dislikes or fears that could help or hamper your MC in her quest.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Thursday, June 10, 2010 Laurel Garver
If you're just now joining us, I've been doing a series on the problem of "overwriting" and how to repair work suffering from this malady.

Here are the links to my earlier posts in the series:

Part 1- Overwriting: What is is?
Part 2- Overwriting: Diction
Part 3- Overwriting: Babbling

Today we come to tangents, a term you might associate with geometry. My MC, an arty New York girl, struggles terribly with geometry in particular and with numbers generally. When she initially signed up for classes, she was sure shape-related math would be breeze-easy for her arty brain.

See, friends? This is how tangents worm their way into your work! It's exceedingly easy for one thought to trigger another, unrelated one. Suddenly you've dropped down a rabbit hole into Wonderland.

I don't yet have a fail-safe for preventing these mental hiccups while drafting. But I have found that longhand free writing warm-ups help me gain focus before diving into a real manuscript in process.

There are a number of places tangents often appear in my work: moving from here to there, dialogue transitions, descriptions and internal monologue. Let's look at each.

Movement
Beginning writers often falsely believe they have to account for the MC's every move. Thus they write some intensely boring descriptions of waiting for the bus, or bickering with siblings in the car, or roaming soulless suburban subdivisions.

Unless something plot-twisting happens during movement, cut these yawn-inducing scenes. Instead, use narrative summary to get your character to the location where important action will occur. Remember that not everything your character does merits being dramatized (like potty breaks, for example).

Examples
My thighs are burning by the time pedal to the top of Breach Point.

When we return to Caitlin's place, she's sitting on the porch smoking.

The windows are dark when I reach the rectory. So far, so good.


Dialogue transitions
In The Two Towers, Merry and Pippin spend a day with the Ents' Council and learn from Treebeard that it took from mid-morning till dusk for the Ents to complete their initial hellos. Are your dialogue scenes like this? Wasting a full page each on saying hello and goodbye?

Maybe your dialogue gets tangential in the middle, when one character wants to change the subject and fearing a non sequitur, you waste line after line moving from one topic to the next.

How do you repair this? Mix in other narrative techniques: narrative summary, thought, action.

Examples
To skip lengthy meet and greets:
Once everyone was introduced, Penny said...

We exchanged the usual BS about track and chem before I got the nerve to ask, "You think that guy we saw last night was breaking the law?"

To suddenly shift topics with thought:
Jerome was not going there with this girl. "So, what'd you think of Hayden's plan?"

Was he flirting with me? No freaking way. "I, um, just get headaches from ponytails after a while."

To suddenly shift topics with action:
Izzy checked her watch. "Well, look at the time. You give any thought yet to our project?"

Vic's phone buzzed in his pocket. "Shoot, that's my dad. He's probably hyperventilating that we still haven't found Kip."

Descriptions
Descriptive tangents are probably the easiest to identify. Your character might begin describing the lay of the land then expound a full-blown encyclopedia entry of your setting--its climate, topography, architecture, history, etc., ad nauseum. Or your heroine the fashionista savors every last detail of every outfit worn by every guest at a party.

It's so easy to get carried away in loving your fictional world. Just remember that your reader will savor more of the flavor if you sprinkle shorter descriptions all through the work. For more help with punchy descriptions, see my post "Engaging Descriptions Readers Won't Just Skim."

Internal monologue
Exploring your character's inner world in all its rich vagaries might be fun for you, but as a reader I frankly don't give a rip if those thoughts go absolutely nowhere. Character monologues must have multiple purposes in the narrative or they're just filler. Revealing personality alone is not enough.

Monologues must drive the narrative by revealing inner tensions, moral dilemmas, past wounds, drives, desires, attitudes, prejudices, dislikes or fears that could help or hamper your MC in her quest.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Overwriting, according to Dictionary.com, is "to write in too elaborate, burdensome, diffuse, or prolix a style." This definition itself might qualify as overwritten, but it has provided some helpful hooks on which to hang my thoughts, as I explained in part 1 of the series.

In part 2, we explored diction issues that are a component of overwriting, particularly the abuse of advanced vocabulary, literary devices (sound devices, metaphor and simile, allusion) and dialect.

Today, we'll look at "sins of the tongue"--that is, types of overwriting that crop up in dialogue.

Softening phrases
Indirectness can be an effective way of showing a character’s non-confrontational nature or anxiety or indecision. Or it can simply be your anxiety appearing on the page. Take care to limit how many softening phrases you use.

Some common softeners to search for: maybe, might, seem, just, like, kind of, sort of, a bit, a little, tends to, as it were, you know, I think, I guess, I don't know.

Sample 1
He seemed kind of like, you know, maybe a bit of whiner.

Your best fix for this verbosity is to simply trim. Pick the phrase that best fits your voice.
He's kind of a whiner.
He seems whiny.


Or be direct:
He's a whiner.

Sample 2
Jared told Nate, “I think maybe we sort of like each other a little. I don’t know.”

Body language can stand in for some of the softening:
Jared shrugged. “We like each other a little.”

So can narrated action:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate, but there was Lia dancing with the neckless linebacker.

Or try internal thought:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate. At least in bio, where there were no neckless linebackers to hit on Lia.

The idea here is to mix techniques. What makes something overwritten is repetitious abuse of a single technique. Make sense?

Verbal tics
In an effort to make dialogue sound authentic, many beginning writers transcribe real conversations. Unfortunately, this makes for very annoying reading. Your goal should be verisimilitude--"like reality"--that reflects some of a speaker's peculiar turns of phrase without going overboard.

Some common tics to look out for: like, just, totally, literally, you know.

Sample (college student I overheard in elevator):
"Like, omigosh that dude is like, you know, so totally friggin bizarro freak-boy weird."

She has some colorful lingo here, but tends to gush and repeat herself. Some trims do the trick:
"That dude? Total freak boy."
"You see that friggin bizarre dude?"

Remember that "book speech" should be more efficient and compact than real speech. Use verbal tics like hot peppers in a sauce--just enough to add flavor. Too much, and it's inedible.

Evasive maneuvers
Perhaps you have a character who tries to evade truth telling by going on long-winded tangents. My MC does. The trick has been to represent this in a way that gets the idea across without being tiresome to read. I've found it's definitely a case where telling works better than showing.

Overwritten example (brace yourself, it's a doozy):

“Well, it was a total nightmare getting here,” I say. “We got into a holding pattern over Heathrow and I wanted to get out of my seat so bad. They cram you in there like a pack of Crayolas. I wish I could have taken my legs off and stowed them in the overhead bin. The guy in front of me had his head practically in my lap most of the way and there was this Amazon warrior princess sitting across the aisle from me who must work for the WNBA or something. She was huge. Her legs were sticking way out in the aisle and people kept tripping over her giant feet and falling on me. This one kid tripped and dropped a handful of superballs, and they bounced and ricocheted all over the place. If almost everyone hadn’t been asleep, it would have been total pandemonium. After we finally landed and got luggage, I had to go through customs all alone because the rest of my family are citizens. So I end up behind this bunch of drunk college students who danced around and sang ‘Born in the USA’ at the top of their lungs. Some of them got hauled off by security. I hope they got strip-searched, stupid goons. By the time I find my grandparents, I have a raging headache, but there was nowhere to get coffee. My grandfather is Mr. Fit and Spry, so he’s like, ‘let’s pop on the Tube, we’ll get to King’s Cross in no time.’ King’s Cross is the rail station with trains that go up to the northeast and Scotland. It was in Harry Potter. You know, platform 9 ¾? There’s a sign for platform 9 ¾, but they keep a luggage trolley in front of it so no crazy kids run into the wall and crack their heads open. Anyway, the tube ride is like an hour long, and this was New Year’s Day. So in addition to hung-over people who had been partying all night, the train’s packed with suburbanites heading to the city to hit the post-holiday sales. Of course, everyone’s totally annoyed to have to climb over our fat suitcases, but they’d never say anything. The British never do. They just sigh a lot, glare and generally look ticked off.”

“I wondered when you were going to pause for breath."


Dreadful, right? My reader certainly wouldn't have the patience to wade through Dani's random babbling about things with no significance to the plot or this scene.

I repaired this using narrative summary, then transition back to dialogue:

I launch into a long-winded story about my travel woes: the cramped flight, rowdy jerks in customs, endless rides on the Tube and train, my uncle’s crazy driving. How I wish I could've beamed straight to Ashmede like on Star Trek.

He laughs. “Don’t get your hopes up. No one could survive being atomically deconstructed. It’s a bogus concept altogether.”

The key is to discern what you most want to communicate. In my case, it wasn't the content of Dani's babbling that mattered, it was action of babbling itself that showed her anxiety and duplicity. Remember that not all telling is evil. It has a place in your toolbox.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?
Tuesday, June 08, 2010 Laurel Garver
Overwriting, according to Dictionary.com, is "to write in too elaborate, burdensome, diffuse, or prolix a style." This definition itself might qualify as overwritten, but it has provided some helpful hooks on which to hang my thoughts, as I explained in part 1 of the series.

In part 2, we explored diction issues that are a component of overwriting, particularly the abuse of advanced vocabulary, literary devices (sound devices, metaphor and simile, allusion) and dialect.

Today, we'll look at "sins of the tongue"--that is, types of overwriting that crop up in dialogue.

Softening phrases
Indirectness can be an effective way of showing a character’s non-confrontational nature or anxiety or indecision. Or it can simply be your anxiety appearing on the page. Take care to limit how many softening phrases you use.

Some common softeners to search for: maybe, might, seem, just, like, kind of, sort of, a bit, a little, tends to, as it were, you know, I think, I guess, I don't know.

Sample 1
He seemed kind of like, you know, maybe a bit of whiner.

Your best fix for this verbosity is to simply trim. Pick the phrase that best fits your voice.
He's kind of a whiner.
He seems whiny.


Or be direct:
He's a whiner.

Sample 2
Jared told Nate, “I think maybe we sort of like each other a little. I don’t know.”

Body language can stand in for some of the softening:
Jared shrugged. “We like each other a little.”

So can narrated action:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate, but there was Lia dancing with the neckless linebacker.

Or try internal thought:
“We like each other,” Jared told Nate. At least in bio, where there were no neckless linebackers to hit on Lia.

The idea here is to mix techniques. What makes something overwritten is repetitious abuse of a single technique. Make sense?

Verbal tics
In an effort to make dialogue sound authentic, many beginning writers transcribe real conversations. Unfortunately, this makes for very annoying reading. Your goal should be verisimilitude--"like reality"--that reflects some of a speaker's peculiar turns of phrase without going overboard.

Some common tics to look out for: like, just, totally, literally, you know.

Sample (college student I overheard in elevator):
"Like, omigosh that dude is like, you know, so totally friggin bizarro freak-boy weird."

She has some colorful lingo here, but tends to gush and repeat herself. Some trims do the trick:
"That dude? Total freak boy."
"You see that friggin bizarre dude?"

Remember that "book speech" should be more efficient and compact than real speech. Use verbal tics like hot peppers in a sauce--just enough to add flavor. Too much, and it's inedible.

Evasive maneuvers
Perhaps you have a character who tries to evade truth telling by going on long-winded tangents. My MC does. The trick has been to represent this in a way that gets the idea across without being tiresome to read. I've found it's definitely a case where telling works better than showing.

Overwritten example (brace yourself, it's a doozy):

“Well, it was a total nightmare getting here,” I say. “We got into a holding pattern over Heathrow and I wanted to get out of my seat so bad. They cram you in there like a pack of Crayolas. I wish I could have taken my legs off and stowed them in the overhead bin. The guy in front of me had his head practically in my lap most of the way and there was this Amazon warrior princess sitting across the aisle from me who must work for the WNBA or something. She was huge. Her legs were sticking way out in the aisle and people kept tripping over her giant feet and falling on me. This one kid tripped and dropped a handful of superballs, and they bounced and ricocheted all over the place. If almost everyone hadn’t been asleep, it would have been total pandemonium. After we finally landed and got luggage, I had to go through customs all alone because the rest of my family are citizens. So I end up behind this bunch of drunk college students who danced around and sang ‘Born in the USA’ at the top of their lungs. Some of them got hauled off by security. I hope they got strip-searched, stupid goons. By the time I find my grandparents, I have a raging headache, but there was nowhere to get coffee. My grandfather is Mr. Fit and Spry, so he’s like, ‘let’s pop on the Tube, we’ll get to King’s Cross in no time.’ King’s Cross is the rail station with trains that go up to the northeast and Scotland. It was in Harry Potter. You know, platform 9 ¾? There’s a sign for platform 9 ¾, but they keep a luggage trolley in front of it so no crazy kids run into the wall and crack their heads open. Anyway, the tube ride is like an hour long, and this was New Year’s Day. So in addition to hung-over people who had been partying all night, the train’s packed with suburbanites heading to the city to hit the post-holiday sales. Of course, everyone’s totally annoyed to have to climb over our fat suitcases, but they’d never say anything. The British never do. They just sigh a lot, glare and generally look ticked off.”

“I wondered when you were going to pause for breath."


Dreadful, right? My reader certainly wouldn't have the patience to wade through Dani's random babbling about things with no significance to the plot or this scene.

I repaired this using narrative summary, then transition back to dialogue:

I launch into a long-winded story about my travel woes: the cramped flight, rowdy jerks in customs, endless rides on the Tube and train, my uncle’s crazy driving. How I wish I could've beamed straight to Ashmede like on Star Trek.

He laughs. “Don’t get your hopes up. No one could survive being atomically deconstructed. It’s a bogus concept altogether.”

The key is to discern what you most want to communicate. In my case, it wasn't the content of Dani's babbling that mattered, it was action of babbling itself that showed her anxiety and duplicity. Remember that not all telling is evil. It has a place in your toolbox.

Which of these areas trips you up? Any other helpful hints to add?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Today I celebrate. My completed novel revisions are now in the hands of my able critique partners! Once they give the manuscript a final dusting-down, it's query time.

Thanks, everyone for your well wishes for my daughter. Ironically it was hobbit-girl's fevered day on the couch Memorial Day that enabled me to be hugely productive and break through my last stuck places. She had a moderate cold after that and recovered by Thursday.

It's been instructive and encouraging to look back at my process this rewrite. In the past eight months I've become an increasingly faster writer. Last fall I was revising three chapters every two months; in the past five weeks, I rewrote eight chapters. Besides becoming speedier, I've also learned a lot about writing leaner. My cleaned-up rough draft for this book was 102K words. This revision (my fourth), I'm down to 66K, right where I want to be for contemporary YA.

One of the key differences I see is my confidence. My tendency to overwrite was strongest when I was starting out and feeling unsure of myself. One strong description didn't feel like enough. I worried that every movement from here to there had to be accounted for. I rarely started scenes in medias res. I created unnecessary delays for the sake of "tension" that felt inorganic.
It took far more than simple trimming to repair the problems, too. What I've learned along the way I hope to share with you. So stay tuned for more on overwriting tomorrow (and several posts after that as well).

How have you been, friends? Where are you in process with your projects? Anything you're celebrating today?
Monday, June 07, 2010 Laurel Garver
Today I celebrate. My completed novel revisions are now in the hands of my able critique partners! Once they give the manuscript a final dusting-down, it's query time.

Thanks, everyone for your well wishes for my daughter. Ironically it was hobbit-girl's fevered day on the couch Memorial Day that enabled me to be hugely productive and break through my last stuck places. She had a moderate cold after that and recovered by Thursday.

It's been instructive and encouraging to look back at my process this rewrite. In the past eight months I've become an increasingly faster writer. Last fall I was revising three chapters every two months; in the past five weeks, I rewrote eight chapters. Besides becoming speedier, I've also learned a lot about writing leaner. My cleaned-up rough draft for this book was 102K words. This revision (my fourth), I'm down to 66K, right where I want to be for contemporary YA.

One of the key differences I see is my confidence. My tendency to overwrite was strongest when I was starting out and feeling unsure of myself. One strong description didn't feel like enough. I worried that every movement from here to there had to be accounted for. I rarely started scenes in medias res. I created unnecessary delays for the sake of "tension" that felt inorganic.
It took far more than simple trimming to repair the problems, too. What I've learned along the way I hope to share with you. So stay tuned for more on overwriting tomorrow (and several posts after that as well).

How have you been, friends? Where are you in process with your projects? Anything you're celebrating today?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Despite my best intentions, I don't think I'll be able to put in much blogging time this week. Being home with a sick kid for a few days has forced me to reshuffle how I spend my time.

I know many of you are eager for more installments of my overwriting series. So here's how you can help me get back on track next week: Send me some sample sentences to discuss and repair.

I need examples of sentences and/or paragraphs that demonstrate writing that's
~dense
~difficult to understand
~tangent-ridden
~full of verbal tics ("just," "you know," "like totally")
~full of softening phrases ("kind of," "a little," "along the lines of," etc.)
~wordy
~rambling
~explanation-heavy
~repetitive

Send your overwritten gems to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com by Thursday. I'll use the most telling examples to shed light on common problems. Be sure to let me know if you wish your examples to remain anonymous. I'll give credit only if you want it.

Have a great week, everyone!
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 Laurel Garver
Despite my best intentions, I don't think I'll be able to put in much blogging time this week. Being home with a sick kid for a few days has forced me to reshuffle how I spend my time.

I know many of you are eager for more installments of my overwriting series. So here's how you can help me get back on track next week: Send me some sample sentences to discuss and repair.

I need examples of sentences and/or paragraphs that demonstrate writing that's
~dense
~difficult to understand
~tangent-ridden
~full of verbal tics ("just," "you know," "like totally")
~full of softening phrases ("kind of," "a little," "along the lines of," etc.)
~wordy
~rambling
~explanation-heavy
~repetitive

Send your overwritten gems to laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com by Thursday. I'll use the most telling examples to shed light on common problems. Be sure to let me know if you wish your examples to remain anonymous. I'll give credit only if you want it.

Have a great week, everyone!