Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dissecting Your Novel - Part 2

Dissecting Your Novel - Part 1 covered three aspects of editing your own work with a fresh look to tighten and brighten your novels. The elements I covered were: Motivation-reaction unit, cause/effect arrangement of sentences, and the plight of using adverbs.

This post will continue with the last three elements:
• Placing the most important/emphatic in a sentence. Margie Lawson, Lawson Writer’s Academy and Strunk &White, The Elements of Style
• Use beats instead of tags. Browne and King, Self-editing For Fiction Writers
• Revise with scissors - Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Ending With The Emphatic: Backloading
Margie Lawson presents workshops teaching a variety of courses to help author’s improve their writing. One of her presentations covers ending sentences with the most significant word called backloading. The most important or emphatic idea in each sentence should be given a place of prominence is also stressed in The Elements of Style, as noted above. As in any talk, speakers know that the last words they say are the ones remembered. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” is a prime example and J.F. Kennedy left us with his final remembered thought: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

In the same way, authors can read their narrative and dialogue with a discerning eye and structure sentences so that the prominent word ends the sentence. The important word receives the power.
Strunk and White’s example is:
Weak: This steel is principally used for making razors, because of its hardness.
Strong: Because of its hardness, this steel is principally used for making razors.

Weak: I get nauseous every time I look at him.
Strong: Every time I look at him I get nauseous.

Weak: With her spirit wavering, she shrugged off her attitude and enjoyed the scenery.
Strong: With her spirit wavering, she enjoyed the scenery and shrugged off her attitude.

Weak: Tears filled her eyes.
Strong: Her eyes filled with tears.

I hope these examples provide you with a better understanding of backloading sentences.

Beats Instead Of Tags
In Self-Editing For Fiction Writers, Shrunk and White present a chapter called “Easy Beats.” The chapter extols the use of beats (referring to character’s action or introspection) rather than using the typical dialogue attributes (tags), such as said and asked. The benefit of cutting the tags when you are able are many. Cutting tags allows tension to be more prominent.
For example: “Stop it,” she said, “you’re hurting me.”
Drop the she said. “Stop it. You’re hurting me.”
Notice the flow of the line helps to dramatize the tension. As long as the speaker is clear, you can present dialogue without any tags or beats. Yet a few beats add reality to the scene and illuminate a character. They also provide breathing space, giving the reader a break from the constant rifle shot of dialogue. Finally beats rather than dialogue tags create deeper POV when you remove the artificial words of said and asked. Please don’t use anything besides said and asked, except whispered if it’s needed. Anything else screams poor weak writing.

Revise With Scissors
In The Elements of Style, once again Strunk and White suggest an interesting way of revising your work. When you find serious flaws in the arrangement of your material, such as paragraphs that aren’t cohesive and information presented in an unlogical order, they recommend using scissors and cutting your dialogue or narrative into individual strips and then move them into a different arrangement patterns hoping to improve the paragraph(s). With computers, scissors are no longer needed, but they are still a possibility. Now you can copy and paste the problem paragraph or paragraphs to a new page and organize them into a list of sentences. This gives you the ability to reorganize your dialogue or narrative into a different arrangement with the hope of presenting the information in a more realistic and useful manner. Doing this you may find ways to combine sentences, cut phases or lines that are redundant, and place the information in a logical order. If after reorganizing you change your mind, you still have the original paragraphs in your original document.

These ideas will not save a bad novel, but they can improve a good one that just needs a little tuneup.


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