A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts with words of wisdom from different authors. I ‘collect’ these whenever I come across them. I will share these with you – (my readers) for October and November as I work on my outline for NaNoWriMo, as well as teaching my class, ‘Mustang Patty Teaches Writing.’ I hope you find them as valuable as I do.
I am continuing to use the information I culled from Jerry Jenkin’s* writing class. One of his articles about editing is especially useful to me.
He goes into detail about his editing process as follows: ‘…I want to show you how I edit and rewrite my own first drafts. And then I’ll show you what would need to be done to the first page of a beginning novelist to get into shape to submit. The best way for you to benefit from this is to imagine how similar changes to your own writing will strengthen your manuscript. But first let me talk about the hallmark of this kind of self-editing and writing. And then I’ll run down a brief list of terms I use often so they won’t sound foreign to you when I use them in the trimming.
Ok, the fundamentals to keep in mind as you self-edit are simple; in fact they’re so simple they’re going to sound redundant because they all lead to the same end. And here they are:
Cutting is power, so tighten, tighten, tighten. And omit needless words. This is the rule that follows its own advice. Some of you will recognize, it comes right out of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, the bible of style. Imagine how much copy could be invested in explaining this rule. Yet, this rule says it all; omit needless words and you’ll be amazed at how many words are needless when we get into this editing and rewriting.
Now, Francine Prose—how’s that for an author name—has a great quote in her book, Reading Like a Writer. Listen to this: For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous—what can be altered, revised, expanded or especially cut—is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form…clear, economical, sharp. That’s the essence of what I aim to do as a ferocious self-editor.
Now let me quickly run through the most common terms I use in these manuscript repairand-rewrite sessions. So you’ll have a guide to refer to each time you study one. I know it’s a lot to take in, especially the first few times, but trust me—this does get easier. At first you’ll wonder, as I did when I edited like this as a young man, how will I possibly see all this in my own manuscripts? But eventually you will. If I can, you can.
So here’s some of the terms I use. “Just say it”—avoid what I call the language of written-ese, that dialect we all tend to fall into when we over-write. A good example is church newsletter writers, when rather than just writing “Everybody had a good time,” they write “A good time was had by all.” Just say it. Showing off your vocabulary or your formal turn of phrase shows us you’re intruding on your story. Any time your reader is aware of you as the writer or aware of the writing itself, they’re not sucked into the story, which is what we want.
Delete subtle redundancies. Anyone can spot the obvious redundancies, like past history—that’s the best kind of history, don’t you think? Or future plans? Of course, plans would be future. But the more subtle ones like “squinted his eyes,” what else would a person squint? Or “clapped his hands,” what else would he clap? “She nodded her head in agreement.” That’s a hat trick. Why would she nod her head if it wasn’t agreement? What else would she nod except her head? Not sure I want to know.
Until next time,
*Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American writer. He is best known for the Left Behind series, written for Tim LaHaye. en.wikipedia.org
- Born: September 23, 1949 (age 72), Kalamazoo, Michigan