As some of you know, I have a writing group that I started a few months ago. We meet every other Friday and have a wonderful time sharing our work, talking about how to improve it, and just having fun.
Today, one of the members, a girl in her early 20s, said she had a problem not covering every moment of every day. She realized it was boring, but she didn’t know how to get around it. We didn’t have a lot of time to talk about it, as we’d talked about so much already, but it gave me a great idea for a post. Now, I simply need to organize my thinking so I can discuss it.
After hearing her read something she’d written, I realized she had two problems. First, the one she mentioned – telling every action. The other was that she didn’t write dialogue, she told about it. Fortunately, she realized that lack herself, but said it was taking her out of the story to do dialogue. Instead, she wrote about it with the intention of going back later to fix it. For me, that would be awkward, but that’s what works for her.
I’ve always been of the opinion that an author should go with what works best for them. If it’s easier to write in a notebook and transcribe later, do it. If it’s easier to write the story and go back to add dialogue, do that too. I couldn’t work like that, but I am a very linear author. I start at the beginning and go on until I reach the end. I can’t write separate scenes and piece them together.
To address my friend’s problem is going to require more than the 10 minute conversation we had. It’s going to take some thought because she hasn’t got as much experience as some of the rest of us. I can tell it’s frustrating her, so I need to think through this carefully before our next meeting in two weeks.
So, how does the inexperienced (or even a seasoned one) avoid the “tell every minute” problem? —Choose the moments that move the story forward. This isn’t always easy at first, but does get better over time. My suggestion was for her to finish writing the way she was doing. It’s working, the story is coming. Later, she can go back and edit it. I don’t always recommend this, because editing later can be a pain in the butt. However, since she is very inexperienced, she needs to continue with what’s working for her.
Having the same problem? Try this idea:
Step one: Print the entire story out. Don’t worry about it being in perfect MS format. Give yourself narrower margins and use 1.5 spacing, rather than double spaced, to save paper. 1.5 spacing still gives you a good amount of writing room to make notes.
Step two: With your favorite highlighter in hand, read the MS. Anything that jumps off the page, mark it.
Step three: Read it again, this time aloud. You’l
l be surprised how many more mistakes you notice this way. Mark them too. (You can even change highlighter colors if you like)
Step four: Read it again and be BRUTAL. Anything that doesn’t move the story forward, cut it. It might be your favorite scene, but if it doesn’t add anything to the story, get rid of it. I had to do that in my second sci-fi. I call this my slash and burn stage.
Step five: Once you’ve cut things out, read carefully through the edited passage and write transitional material – a bridge – to fill in the blank. Transitions needn’t be long. Sometimes a sentence or two will suffice. Depending upon what’s been cut, more may be necessary. Use your judgement.
Step six: Make the corrections in your computer file. DO NOT THROW ANYTHING AWAY! Whatever you cut, save it in another file. I call these edit files Cut from <title> and save them in a folder with the MS files. You never know if you’ll decide to use those deleted scenes after all, or re-purpose them for something else. Add the new material and proof it.
Set it aside for awhile. In fact, between passes, you should probably let it simmer for a few days (at the very least) in order to give it a fresh perspective.
If you have people you can coerce into beta reading for you, do so. Be willing to accept the comments you get. Sometimes, that’s difficult, but do the best you can. Take the advice that works for you. However, unless it feels right, don’t completely revamp your work just to suit someone else. Let the characters speak for themselves. They know how best to tell their stories.
Keep in mind, you needn’t tell every blink of the eyes, inhalation or lick of the lips your characters make. Don’t feel that each individual action is necessary. For goodness sake, don’t fall into: She startedto run for the door. or He beganto walk across the room. And don’t say you’ve never done that, because we all do.
She ran for the door. OR He walked across the room. The more words you have between your subject and verb, the more garbled your message. Be concise and precise. Infinitive Verbs are clunky and indistinct. Any time you use To + Verb, you’ve weakened your sentence. Keep a strong, active voice.
I’m getting off subject now. Perhaps I’d better curtail this article. To conclude – Keep in mind that less is often more. Flowery, wordy descriptions aren’t always necessary to get your point across.