Janette Johnson Melson
Cut that Out! Creativity Still Abounds in the Editing Process
I enjoy the creative process of writing. But I’m not that fond of editing. It seems too much like work. LOL. So, I have been dreading this part of my writing journey where the actual story of my novel is completed, and now I have to flesh it out, perfect it and correct it. The funny thing, though, is that I have actually enjoyed what little editing I have accomplished so far. There is still so much creativity going on. It’s not just finding and correcting misspellings and grammar errors. It’s about finding the perfect words to convey my meaning in any given sentence. The work is grueling at times, true, but is also satisfying when it comes together.
As you can imagine, a lot of rules have changed since I graduated college, and some things which were popular in fiction way back then are not anymore. I’ve had to learn so much in the last two years. Since most of you probably aren’t itching to be writers but are just interested in the process and my journey through it, I won’t go through ALL the things I’ve learned, but I will let you in on a few secrets:
1. In this age of instant gratification and short attention spans, authors need to be succinct and selective with their word choices. We are to avoid being verbose, wordy, long-winded (oh, yeah, and redundant). Lol.
2. Adverbs, which modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs, have fallen out of favor. Authors are now trained to use as few adverbs as they can. At first, I had a problem with this because I feel that there are seven parts of speech for a reason, and cutting one of them out is ridiculous. But then I learned more about the why, and I understood. The argument is that we writers should pick stronger words which convey the meaning without the help of an adverb. For example, instead of saying, “He spoke softly,” you can say, “He whispered.” That’s an easy one, but some of them aren’t, especially if you’ve been changing adverb combos for hours. Sometimes, though, the revision is as easy as tossing the adverb away and leaving the other word to stand on its own. Below, you can see how I revised a couple of faulty paragraphs in my novel.
Original – She opened her eyes and was startled to find that she was nose to chest to an incredibly large and even more incredibly handsome man.
Revised – However, when she opened her eyes, she was startled to find that she was nose to chest with a well-dressed hulk and hunk of a man.
In the example above, I have removed the adverb + adjective combos and replaced each of them with a single noun which provides the same description. By removing the adverbs, the revised word choices are stronger and more succinct.
Here’s another one:
Original – Shocked and caught off guard, Edie looked up into equally shocked eyes. “Mr. Lewis,” she said, standing a little too quickly and almost knocking her chair over, “how nice to see you again.”
Revised – Locking eyes with the owner of that voice, Edie saw her surprise mirrored in
the face of Erik Lewis. “Mr. Lewis”—She sprung to her feet and almost knocked her chair
over—“what are you doing here?”
3. Back in the day when I was first learning to write, we learned about dialog tags, which identify who is speaking. The most used of these tags are said and asked. These tags help to keep dialog from getting confusing. However, used too much, they can remove the reader from the action of the story by reminding them that they are reading. As authors, we want our readers to be so immersed in the story that they “forget” they aren’t actually there. So, anything which reminds the reader that they are, in fact, a reader is bad. While confusing dialog can be such a culprit, so can too many dialog tags. Nowadays, in addition to not using adverbs (never say, “he whispered conspiratorially”), authors are expected to use fewer tags and more action beats. Action beats can identify the speakers and describe their actions, emotions and intentions without having to use dialog tags.
For example, in the revised paragraph above, we know that Edie is the one talking because of the action beat of her springing to her feet and almost knocking her chair over. In the original version, I used the word said, but in the revision, I don’t have to.
As you can see from these three examples, there is still a lot of creativity in the editing process, but there is a lot of painstaking work involved, too. And these are just three of the myriad of things we authors have to take into consideration when perfecting our work product. So, if I’m going to get my novel ready for its next contest in March, I’d better stop writing to you, my loyal friends, and get on with it.
Love you bunches and boocoodles!