Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #7 Tighten Words

This is where I really go over the manuscript with a surgeon's scalpel cutting out any unnecessary or ineffective words. This can be a fun process as it involves our creative use of the English language.

As I'm reading each sentence, I ask myself, "Does it relay exactly what I wish for it to relay?" Can I find a better word to describe what I need to describe? Can I find a better word to convey a sense of movement, of drama, of tension?

In the prologue of my novel, my character, a young boy, is staring at the ceiling, watching the interplay of light and shadows. Inside this spectral drama, he knows hides the dark spirits of his grandmother's tales. Yet, the word 'hides' while appropriate, doesn't quite convey the fear a young child would experience, alone in his room at night, searching for malevolent ghosts. Sure, the spirits may be hiding in the shadows on his ceiling, but the word, 'lurking' is much more chilling, much more full of the ominous presence that I needed for the scene.

Another little trick that I learned from John Hough Jr., that I like to include here has to do with a very common tendency of mine. Often I'll write, "he paused," or something similar. I use this to create a beat, to give the character time to think, to build tension. For example, "he stepped to the doorway and paused." John taught me that rather than use the word 'pause,' create the pause. Instead of stepping to the doorway and pausing, he should step to the door and give a backward glance at the photo on the table or such. This still creates the beat but is much more evocative, descriptive and revealing of character than simply pausing. Used effectively, I can turn what was once just a pause into a powerful moment for the story.

In truth, Tightening Words is a difficult step for me. Some authors have a tremendous command of the English language. I can barely remember the word 'hello' when someone approaches me on the street, so I really have to stretch my mind. But I do, using that scalpel, searching out the bad words and excising them.

In the end, my patient, the manuscript, will be healthier because of it.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Hi Todd.

Thanks for the nice words--your blog is definitely a keeper. I can use all the fiction-writing advice I get!

I'll add you to my blog now, but I'll be back. Especially like the advice on showing a pause, not telling.

Happy Writing!