Writing and Rambling

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Sighing and Nodding

Posted by Dave on March 27, 2010

I hit the track for the first time in 2010 this past Tuesday.  The weather didn’t really allow it any other day (for which I sent a “Thank You” card to the local weatherman).  Ouch.  Between walking and jogging, I managed to make it three miles.  It wasn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be the next day, but I was still walking a little slower than usual.  This week looks like better weather, so I’ll be able to go more than once.  My running goal is five miles with no walking by the end of the summer.  My weight goal is 200 with a starting weight of 230.  We’ll see.

Our brief respite is almost over.  We had a couple of weeks after the kids’ basketball season ended, but now it’s time for baseball and softball to gear up.  Plus, my daughter is also going to be playing volleyball in a summer league at the same time, and she’s on the school track team as well.  I’ll have to really stay on my own case to keep the writing on pace.  I love to write, but one of my favorite things to do is watch my kids in their games or school functions (plays, singing, talent shows, etc…).  I’ll have to make it work somehow.  To paraphrase Tony Little, “I can DO it!”

Writing update:

Well, I’m almost halfway through the first edit of Jaben’s Rift.  I say first edit because I will definitely be going through it again.  This first time through is looking for basic stuff like words or phrases that aren’t needed, or are redundant.  I was surprised at how many unnecessary “he said,” or “to her,” there were, or simply phrases that restated something said previously, or that weren’t needed at all.  Just looking for things like that, I’ve been able to trim almost 4,000 words off the manuscript, and I’m not quite halfway through it.

Here’s a breakdown of a paragraph from my first draft, and how I changed it:

“The sun had already begun its climb into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door to begin their journey.  Stepping out into the yard, the first thing Jason noticed was the multitude of various odors filling the air.  Noting the direction of the breeze, Jason looked upwind.  What he saw caused his steps to slow until he finally came to a complete stop in amazement.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, some quite impressive, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

At first glance, it doesn’t look all that bad, but there are some things that could definitely use a few tweaks.  So, here’s what I changed, and why.

  • “The sun had already begun its climb…”  This is a little wordy.  I changed it to, “The sun was climbing…”
  • “…to begin their journey.”  Not needed.  I’ve already established at the end of the previous chapter that they’re going to start their journey this morning, so this is redundant.
  • “Stepping out into the yard, the first…”  Not needed.  If he stepped outside, it’s a given that he’s stepping into the yard.
  • “…various odors…”  I dropped various.  If there’s a multitude of odors, they have to be varied or he wouldn’t notice that there’s a multitude.  They’d all smell the same.
  • “Noting the direction of the breeze…”  Again, not needed.  For him to know which way upwind was, it’s a given he’d have to figure out which way the breeze was blowing.
  • “What he saw caused his steps to slow until…”  Wordy and not really needed.  If his steps slow, we can infer that whatever it is he’s looking at is the reason.
  • “…in amazement.”  Same as the last phrase.  I ended up combining this sentence and the previous one instead.
  • “…some quite impressive…”  Not bad, but again, not really needed.

After the first edit, the new paragraph reads like this:

“The sun was climbing into the clear morning sky as Jason and Reyga walked out the door.  The first thing Jason noticed as he stepped outside was the multitude of odors filling the air.  He looked upwind, and then slowed until he finally came to a complete stop.  He had seen plenty of backyard gardens before, but this was surely the king of all gardens, if there were such a thing.”

See how much unnecessary stuff was in there the first time?  The new version, while perhaps still not perfect, is cleaner and more concise without really losing anything from the original.  It’s just that now, instead of assuming the readers need every little thing explained to them, they’re given credit for enough intelligence to figure out some things on their own.  Remember, never insult your reader’s intelligence.  Plus, the original paragraph was ninety-six words.  The revised version is seventy-one.  That’s a reduction of twenty-six percent.  Obviously, we can’t to do that with every paragraph, but if you’re a beginning writer like me, you might be surprised at what you can get rid of without hurting your story.  And if you’re not a writer, the next time you read a book (especially if it seems to be dragging), see if you can spot places where the author is using extra words and/or phrases that really don’t need to be there.  These can bog a story down if there are too many of them.

Another thing I noticed is that my characters tended to sigh and nod a lot.  Now, this isn’t all that different from what we do in real life (just think about how many times you nod in the course of a conversation), but if a writer puts every single nod into the text, it can get distracting.  Same thing goes with sighing, or taking a deep breath, or being silent for a moment, etc…  While we want our dialogue and associated actions to be believable, there is such a thing as too much detail.  (And, by cutting out all of the deep sighs, I’m conserving oxygen, hehe.)

Finally, there are the “he said,” “to him,” and other little tags that we put into our dialogue, a lot of which aren’t needed.  This is especially true if there are only two characters in the scene.  Here’s a quick and dirty example:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill,” Jenny said.  “How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said.  “How about you?”
“I’m good,” she said.
“So, how’s your mom doing?” he asked her.
“She’s doing great,” she told him.  “Thanks for asking.”

This could just as easily have been written:

“Hi, Jenny,” Bill said as he walked up to her.
“Hi, Bill.  How’s it going?”
“Oh, it’s okay.  How about you?”
“I’m good.”.
“So, how’s your mom doing?”
“She’s doing great.  Thanks for asking.”

Okay, so it’s not the greatest example, but do you see how, even when the tags are left off, you still know who’s talking?  Removing unneeded tags also speeds up the dialogue instead of bogging it down.  Read the second section, and then go back and read the first section again.  See the difference?  Now if this were to turn into a long discussion, you would want to add some sort of tag every so often, either dialogue tag or motion element, so that the reader doesn’t lose track of who’s speaking.  But for sections like this, a lot of those tags can be tossed out the window.

Enough for today. Have a good one!
Dave

Every day, every moment, is another step on the journey. Are your steps taking you in the direction you want to go?

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