Thursday, November 17, 2011

Revision Strategies (Part II)

In Part II of an ongoing series of guest blogs, Lynne H. shares more of her editing expertise with the Creative Writing Toolbox.  Thank you, Lynne!
By way of explanation, the previous post A. C. graciously included in his blog dealt with what authors call “sentence-level” revision.  This post will contain more of the same.

After getting rid of illogical phrases (blinking eyes, nodding heads, silently nodding heads), the next thing to do might be to edit for specific word choices that seem repetitive or redundant.  If you already caught some of these in your first search-and-destroy, go back and catch some more. If this is your zero draft and you don’t edit as you go, there will probably be more *facepalm* moments for you than for some of us who are the edit-as-we-go types. 

Be on the lookout for:

how many times a character shrugs
purses his lips
rolls her eyes
lifts or raises an eyebrow
nods (silently or otherwise)
or how often does the hair on the back of somebody’s neck stand up?
And no, you can’t get away with these as long as you vary the modifiers you throw at them.  

Do the characters’ eyes become nearly anthropomorphic (as in “my eyes went to his face”); does his gaze or glance “fall on” something or someone too often?  Do you overuse certain verbs, as in “he cast a glance in her direction” or “her final insult was cast over her shoulder as she left the room.”?

Are you considering your readers, or are you merely trying to show off your mad thesaurus skills? Have you fallen in love with the word effulgent and are you insistent on using it anywhere it will fit?  I’m not asking you to “dumb down” your prose or condescend to your audience, but you might want to reflect on why you’re using the word. 

Please realize none of these are “evil” in and of themselves.  What we’re mainly talking about is the annoyingly repetitive use of such words or phrases. While in editing/rewriting mode, you might try using some of the tools your word processor has to seek out some of the more overused words and either destroy or replace them (it’s actually called “search and replace,” but I prefer “search and destroy”).

Another suggestion, maybe a little more fun:  go to, click on the “Create” link and copypaste a paragraph, a page, or an entire chapter of your novel and examine the resulting “word cloud.” It will be obvious which words you may be abusing; they’ll be the ones in larger print.

Also, as regards repetition: how many references are you making to a character’s voice, eyes, hair, build? Such references slow your pacing and get in the way of character development that would be more useful, such as personality quirks, thoughts, or relationships with other characters. “Okay, okay, we get it.  He’s the hottest guy in school/ the company/ the universe.  Move on!”

As for redundancy, look for sentences like: “He was gone, but I could still feel the warmth of his hand on my arm.”  If this isn’t a flashback to when our speaker was ten and now-deceased Grandpa Simon placed a hand on our speaker’s arm to tell him or her a secret or to share some truth about life, “still” may be dispensable and superfluous (this is where you say, “I see what you did there”).  Watch for overuse of modifiers, as in:  “The people suffered innumerable and infinite injustices at the hands of the Council,” “Czongor wisely and astutely disagreed.” “We took a tedious and monotonous route through the barren desert.” Some would even consider “barren desert” redundant. 

What to do if you still cannot see some of the glitches in your own work?  That’s for the next post.

Thanks again, Lynne!  For more of Lynne's insights, visit her at