Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Smiling, Nodding Fools

The characters in the rough draft of my new novel are smiling, nodding fools.

Don't get me wrong - I love them all! We've spent more than the last year together and I know all their secrets - well, most of them.

I finished the rough draft ten days ago, except for the final three chapters. I took up the (daunting) task of editing.

My editing process differs from most, I think. I do a read-through in my head, looking for continuity problems and fixing passive voice when I notice it. Then I read it aloud to Darling, who seems to have unlimited patience. I fix more passive voice. I correct things that don't flow when I read them out loud.

Darling is the one who noticed my characters were smiling and nodding all the time.

The truth of that slapped me wonky. My worst error was a preponderance of the word "nodded." Everyone in the story nodded, assuring me my reader would nod off. The worthless nods had to go. In most cases I deleted the word with minor modifications to the sentence. Sometimes it went something like this:
"Jed nodded, watching Maddie's face."
Wow. How about this instead?
"Jed watched Maddie's face." Yeah, quit the nodding. Do I nod that much when I'm awake?

Then I noticed the "after all" phrases peppered throughout my story. My characters said it a lot. I killed most of them and improved the sentences. Wow. My word count began to suffer. Just those two edits dropped hundreds of words from my story. (Yes, I did make some changes to sentence structure and flow during that time, also.)

Then I had to hunt and kill the *ly words in my sentences. When I finished I ran a word macro to get the word occurrences. I still had 235 *ly words occurring 1237 times. Thirty-eight of the *ly words accounted for over 800 instances and sixteen accounted for over half. Here were the top offenders (ignoring "Shelly" who is a major character):

110       only
96        really
49        slightly
46        probably
35        quietly
32        actually
31        simply
28        quickly
27        early
24        barely
23        finally
23        lightly
22        family
21        slowly
18        loudly
17        tightly

I deleted most of the "only" words.

I deleted most of the "really" instances, leaving only a few in the dialogue.

Every one of the "slightly" words disappeared. A few times I changed the sentence structure, but not many.

After some consideration, I deleted most of the "probably" words. A few remained in the dialogue.

I removed every instance of quietly, except one - where he needed people "rounded up quietly." I could have said "secretly" but that's another *ly word. In most I committed the offense by using the phrase "said quietly." Did they say it quietly? If so, they whispered. If not, then they just said it.

I deleted every appearance of "actually" except one, and I used that in dialogue.

The word "simply" disappeared except for two snippets of dialogue where the word applied. (See what I did there?)

I removed all but a few instances of the word "quickly." It wasn’t needed.

"Early" isn't a *ly word. Still I went through where I used it and deleted a few instances where it was not needed. That embarrassed me. It's so easy for these things to slip into my writing.

I considered most of the uses of the word "barely" legitimate, though I removed a few by changing the sentences.

I left "finally" in the places where it reflected the final action or the passage of a length of time.

I deleted almost all the cases of "loudly," leaving only the few I needed to convey a distinct difference in the sound level. That means that all the "laughed loudly" and "said loudly" phrases dropped down to "laughed" and "said," enhancing the tightness of the writing.

Of the ones not listed above, most notable is "briefly" which I deleted from the book. I'm a writer. I should be able to conjure a word that expresses something better than using "briefly."

"Directly" is another word I removed from the book. I almost always had it used with "looked" as in "Jed looked directly at Maddie." Would he ever look indirectly at Maddie? Maybe, but then I guess I'd use indirectly. Otherwise, all these sentences became "Jed looked at Maddie." People's brains get tired when they read "directly" repeatedly. My brain did. Whoops. That was another *ly word.

Editing is hard work. My novel is almost ready...

Oh, the new title!

Hunting August Moon: The Immortality Infection Series


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