Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dissecting Your Novel - Part 1

Editing your own work is difficult, because in our minds, each sentence was a gem when we wrote them, but stepping back and looking at your work with new eyes, often means doing some dissecting Sometimes we need to tighten a novel for the publisher’s word count,and always, we know the process improves our writing and gives us a better story. If you study articles and books on craft, you’ll pick up some key editing ideas and have some new ways to tighten and brighten your novels. Think about some of these concepts, and see what they can do for you.

• Motivation-reaction unit provides logic. Sol Stein, Techniques of the Selling Writer• Sentences and paragraphs need cause/effect arrangement. Strunk & White, The Elements of Style• “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King, On Writing• The most important/empathic word ends the sentence. Margie Lawson, Lawson Writer’s Academy and Strunk & White, The Elements opf Style
• Use beats instead of tags. Browne and King, Self-editing For Fiction Writers• Revise with a scissors - Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Though I’ve mentioned this before, use it when dissecting your work in the final edits. MR unit refers to: Motivation (the stimulus that motivates action) and Reaction (how the person responds to the stimulus. Motivation always comes before reaction. That’s logical. You wouldn’t duck a bullet, if you didn’t see a gun or hear one. Stein indicates that reaction also has an order: an emotional response, followed by action, followed by speech. Example:
A spotlight ripped through the window. Russell’s panicked as he leaped back and closed his eyes to the glare. “Who’s there?” As you write, make sure that you place motivation/stimulus before the action and speech.

Cause/Effect Arrangement
In a similar vein, each sentence should follow the same motivation/stimulus idea. As you write a sentence makes sure that the cause comes before the effect. Example:

He noticed the cloud-filled sky when raindrops of rain struck his arm.
When raindrops struck his arm, he noticed the cloud-filled sky
. Better.
As you edit your novel, look for proper cause/effect arrangement.

Her pulse skipped when she heard the telephone.
Which comes first? The call or the skipping pulse? That’s easy, but when you first look at that sentence, you may not have noticed that the cause and effect were out of order.
When she heard the phone, her pulse skipped.  Now it makes sense.

What’s wrong with this sentence?
Hearing the phone, her pulse skipped.This is another common writing error. The verbal phrase has to match the subject it’s related to. In this sentence, ask yourself who is hearing the phone? Her pulse or the woman? Again, the answer is easy. Therefore the sentence structure is wrong. Phrases must match the subject.

The Plight Of Adverbs

Adverbs are defined as words that modify a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence. What is modify? You know the answer – to change or alter. Since this post is focused on verbs, the big question is why do you need to modify a verb when you have choices beyond imagination? Why not choose the verb that is perfect for your novel?

I’m sure most of you are doing just that. If you mean the person ambled, you won’t write walked slowly. Slowly doesn’t really give a vivid picture of walking with an ambling pace. You can use meander, tiptoe, creep, inch, moseyed or waddled. Each of these words present a distinct image of how the person is walking slowly.
He ambled into the room.
He meandered into the room.
He tiptoed into the room.
He crept into the room.
He inched into the room.
He moseyed into the room.
He waddled into the room.

In each case the person is walking slowly, but each of those words create a different image. Amble seems casual. Meandered gives a picture of wandering. Tiptoed is offers a more stealthy pace. Crept can be seen as sneaking for either good or bad purpose. Inched adds hesitation. Moseyed takes you out west and adds a bit of whimsey. Waddled either reflects a fat person or someone who is more elderly. The specific word creates a clear and vivid image. Don’t settle for spoke slowing, spoke loudly, looked deeply, walked slowly, walked fast, spoke fast, drove wildly, and on and on. Find the best word picture you can. You benefit in two ways. If you need to cut word count, this is a good way to do it, and next you give your readers a lively and accurate view of the character and how he is behaving.

Dissecting Your Novel will continue with part 2 when the last three elements will be covered.


. said...

This is really good advise. Thanks for sharing it and I've become addicted to you're blog :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Lovely reminder here! Thanks and nicely done. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Martha Ramirez said...

Great reminders! Thank you, Gail. I'm working on edits too:)

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Michael K. Reynolds said...

Terrific suggestions Gail! We posted this on the Writing Platform Facebook page.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks everyone. I'm glad you found this part of the blog helpful. Thanks for sharing the info, Michaell. I'll take a look.