Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Unwrapping The Package

Over the last few weeks and months, as I've been editing, writing and learning what I can. I've come across a few choice pieces of advice and resources which have improved my work immensely. As we are only a week away from Christmas I'd like to offer them as a pre-Holiday gift.
#1- The overuse of adjectives- As writers we're taught to bring a scene or character alive by painting a picture and using words to make the reader feel as if they are right there. When writers begin this process of painting with words we can have a tendency to use powerful descriptors which can overwhelm more than paint a picture. One lesson I learned in this area is...In writing 1+1=overkill. If you can say it cleanly, and with a single sentence.Do It!
For example-"Jane swallowed the jagged, softball sized, lump in her throat. She wiped the cold tear, trickling down her cheek, away. Her heart pounded like a caged bird against her rib cage."
Its too much. The reader's mind started to drift back at 'softball sized' Try instead- "The jagged lump lodged in Jane's throat. "wh...Who's th...there?"
We still understand that Jane is scared, but our minds haven't skipped the description of the emotion.
#2. Heavy Adjectives in a single sentence- You've conquered my first suggestion, now you've got to cram all of your pretty words into a single sentence. This is often done to more cleanly paint the picture while muddying the paint. It's also referred to by editors and publishers as 'Purple Prose'. If you're writing literary fiction, this may not apply to you. However if you're writing any other genre, its invaluable.
Example: "Winter's icy wind ran frigid fingers down the man's already stiffened spine."
Did you get a chill from that image? Probably not. The alliteration is nice but the picture is so clunky you almost forget what was happening. Look at this version-
"Icy wind plucked relentlessly at the man's bare flesh."
This sentence has two adjectives, not too many, but pushing the limit. The general rule is to find the most powerful descriptor in the sentence and re-write the sentence using just the single adjective. For more skills, tricks and exercises on doing this Writer's Digest has books, blogs and classes available.
#3. Filtering- This was a radical concept to me when I first learned about it. Filtering is where you have the point of view character tell you what is happening through their 'filter'. You are not seeing what the character sees. You are listening as the character tells you what they see. You don't hear what the character hears. You hear the character tell you about it.
For example: "Becky stood at the window watching a red convertible speeding down her street. She turned and saw the blond hair of her son as he circled the driveway on his tricycle. The blaring of the radio was all she heard as the driver of the car paid no attention."
You've created distance between the character and the reader. Your story is in there, its just wrapped in layers of awkward paper, Styrofoam peanuts, crumpled newspapers and tied with a pound of ribbon.
Eliminate the layers- "Becky's head pressed against the warm glass. The speeding red convertible raced toward her. Blond hair, sweaty on her two-year old's brow danced in the wind as he circled the drive on his tricycle. A radio D.J.'s voice blocked out the quiet sounds of her neighborhood."
Without the filter of Becky's observations you see, hear, and live in the story. Words to look for and eliminate are-see, saw, watch, heard, realized, seemed, understood, knew, and felt. If you are writing about a blind character for example, or a character locked in a dark room, then they are the exception. Their POV has to be filtered, there is no visual that can be offered. Just remember to describe the scene, not what the character hears or observes in the scene.
Just these few small corrections have changed the work I've done since I began writing my next novel. I hope what I've learned will help you unwrap the package of great writing within you as well.
Good luck and keep writing!

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