Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Eleventh Point - Kill the Clunkers

As I'm finishing up this (hopefully) final revision of the book, another revision strategy point has come to mind so frequently that I've been tempted to add it as the eleventh point on our Ten Point Revision Strategy.

Unfortunately, it's so simple and basic, I'd be embarrassed to have to remind myself to do this.

Yet, time after time, reviewing the book that I'd worked on, slaved on for such a long time; woke up at 4 am daily to squeeze more hours out of my exhausting day; obsessed over in the waning hours of night, story ideas coming to me instead of dreams, I've realized I don't always do this one particular thing.

What is it you ask? What daunting discovery have I made that could have such magnitude that it deserves consideration as the 11th point of our strategy?

It's really very simple.

Write well.

Yes, that's it. The new 11th point of our revision strategy. Write Well. Or as I'll rename it and gussy it up; Kill the Clunkers.

It's stunning to think that after all the times I've gone through the novel, how many clunkers remain hidden in the text. What happens is that our eyes get immune to our own bad writing. When we re-read it, our brain nods "yes, that's what I wrote. That's what I intended to write," without ever realizing that what we wrote was bad.

Sometimes it takes an external eye, like a writing group, to help point out these bastards of the English language. If you don't have a group, then the best thing to do is to read your book out loud to yourself. Not in your mind or in a whisper, but out loud. Belt it out. Imagine you're giving a book reading in front of 1,000 of new, unfamiliar readers. Talk loud, with emphasis, and listen to your own words. See how they hang together in this context.

You may find a few clunkers.

What's a clunker? Simply a really badly written sentence. It may be cliche. Melodramatic. Flat. Overly reaching. Whatever, it clunks when it should purr. It's a clunker.

Since I've never been embarrassed to show the horror of some of my own writing, I'll offer a few examples of clunkers I found on this draft that somehow survived all my other reads.

1) What are you going to do?" she asked, drawing on her cigarette. (how can you ask something when you're sucking on a cigarette? You either ask, then suck, or suck then ask. Not at the same time.)

2) Malcomb's eyes widened like a terrified doe's. (that's just bad)

3) Memories he'd spent his entire life running away from were now chasing after him, like a rabid dog biting at his heels. (What? Doggy memories biting me? Ouch!)

4) A tear fell onto her cheek. (cliche)

Other things I've noticed is using the same word too many times in short bites of the book. For example, I have a character who has a "familiar toothless grin." Darn if I didn't write toothless three times in three paragraphs.

These are all clunkers. Examples of bad writing. I found them in my book. I killed them.

Now I'm hunting for more.


Angel said...

This really made me laugh Todd and rang particularly true having just returned from the Arvon Novel writing course.

First job I did when I got back is to make a a "F***it Bucket!" based on the points you raise and am ruthlessly cutting all the Clunkers and other naff stuff that I have thus far written and chucking them into aforesaid bucket!

warm wishes

hi, it's me! melissa c said...

I just found your blog. I have really enjoyed reading what you've posted.

I am new to writing, so I soak up all I can! Thanks for all the advice.