Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing Lean (gacked from my editor)

My editor runs a terrific and informative blog over at She had a good post the other day about slimming your writing:

A couple spoke to me especially (Leah in quotes; my comments in brackets):

"--Avoid explanatory dialogue – characters shouldn’t explain things they would obviously know just for the sake of the reader. Find another way to include the information."

[This drives me nuts. I see this on TV a lot too--the characters discussing what happened between the climactic scene and the denoument: "Wasn't it lucky that so-and-so happened by in his truck to pick us all up so we didn't have to walk home after killing the bad guy? Especially since it was raining."]

"--Be wary of a lot of gazing. It’s not very action-oriented. Most readers will follow the story without it." [OK, I DO THIS!!! I try to trim it out in the final draft.]

"--Simplify as much as possible. I can’t tell you many times I’ve changed “She moved her head up and down in agreement” to “She nodded.”"

[And I think we don't need as many nods and head shakes as we put in. I know I delete many!]

"--Avoid dialogue tags that repeat the words just said. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. Or “I agree,” he concurred. Really, “said” is just fine."

[I sweat A LOT over dialog tags--most aren't necessary at all. The action and the dialog itself should tell you who's speaking. But then, sometimes you do have to keep the reader clued in to who just said what (esp. if there are many people in the scene.) It's a tricky balance.

My favorite solution is {Short action sentence. "Dialog."} or {"Dialog." Short action sentence. "Dialog."} Again, if you do that every time, it's clunky. I read my dialogs over and over again, fine tuning until I find the right balance of tags.]

Another quirk that bugs me is the overuse of name-calling in dialog--as in this imaginary conversation between me and my sweetie:

How are you today, Jennifer?
Not too bad, Forrest.
So, Jennifer, do you want to go out to dinner tonight?
Forrest, I thought you'd never ask.
Great, Jennifer, what time do you want to go?

I'm exaggerating a little, but I have seen things very close to this in published novels. No one speaks to each other in this fashion. You say a person's name to get their attention or for emphasis, then you talk without names. Same with endearments--they're sweet, but if the hero says it every time he opens his mouth, it's a bit much.

Check out Leah's blog for more slimming tips. (Scroll down to the entry; it was a couple of days ago.)

1 comment:

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