Sunday, April 18, 2010

The “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” Edits

I do love you. I really do, LY words, but you have to go. Quit crying “just”and “really”. I promise we’ll meet again in my next book. Oh God, “he said,“she said,” please don’t make me feel any more guilt than I already do.

I love you but you have to go.

Okay, maybe that was a little drama queenish, but you get the point. I’m nearly finished with the first book in my Casserole Lovers Mystery Series, and it’s time to slash and tighten – with love, of course.

The first thing I’ll do is print a hard copy of the manuscript. Computer reading is hell on old eyes, plus for some reason, errors are easier to spot when I’m holding it in my hands. Since I haven’t found a way to turn off my internal editor when I write (thus, the snail pace) my manuscript is usually clean as far as typos and grammar goes.

Adverbs and Adjectives are a whole other matter! I love certain words – use them all the time in conversation. Words like just, actually, finally, really, very, almost, even, that, smiled, realized, sighed, felt, since, still and knew. In fact, my story is flooded with them. Most have to go. That’s JUST REALLY going to kill me.

I judge a lot of contests and there are three major mistakes I see in almost all the entries. The first one is too much back story too soon. In the words of the great Donald Maass, there should never be back-story before page thirty, only hints. Number two on the take-points-off list is what I call bullet point writing. Here’s an example.

John walked into the room and slammed the door behind him. He grabbed the remote and flopped down on the couch. He flipped through the channels looking for something to take his mind off the meeting earlier with his boss. He was so angry he was about to pop.

See how everything starts with a noun? Can you see bullets before each sentence? Doesn’t this one sound better?

Slamming the door behind him. John walked into the room, grabbed the remote and plopped down on the couch. As he flipped through the channels searching for something to take his mind off the earlier meeting with his boss, he blew out a calming breath. Dammit! The man knew how to push his buttons.

And the third thing I see is what my agent calls “fluff”. This is information that doesn’t move the story forward. In the above example, it might be a description of what John was watching on TV or how he cooked his dinner then loaded the dishwasher. It could even be a funny story he thinks about that is meant to inject a little humor in the story. Again, if it doesn’t move the story forward, it’s gotta go.

Get my point?

So, if I’m going to lower somebody else’s score because of these - hello – I’d better practice what I preach.

More cuts.

We all have certain things we love about our writing and editing is not for the faint of heart. But if we want to make the manuscript as crisp and fresh as possible and keep that reader turning the pages, sometimes we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

And that’s another thing I like to do. I am the queen of clich├ęs. I have to make a special pass through the manuscript just to find those. Snip! Snip! Oh crap, I forgot about repeats. Slash/bash.

I found this great site that humbles me by telling me how many times I use words over and over. I pasted in a random chapter of Ducks In A Row that hasn’t been ripped apart by my CPs yet - http://www.wordcounter.com/ I was surprised that I am not as bad as I used to be. I had 9 justs, 6 felts, 5 thoughts, and 6 saids. So I tried another random chapter and this time I only had 6 justs, 5 knews, 5 sinces, and another of my favorites – 5 stills.

Yanno, sometimes you JUST need a certain word.

Baloney, Lipperman, you know what you gotta do!

So, yes, manuscript, I do love you, but you’re too fat. Get over it.



What are some of the ways you slice and dice when you’re editing and what are your overused words?

33 comments:

Lindsay said...

THAT JUST doesn't make SINCE. Even when I'm writing I try to avoid them. And not using 'ing' is another one. IT, my CP hates IT when I use THAT word. Even if the word IT's referring to is in the same or following sentence.
Enough. He SAID. Actually, I've gotten where I'm not using the word all THAT much.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

LOL love your post again, Liz! You should write comedy :-))

I also go through and look for metaphors and try to match them up with my heroines interests. For instance in my teen superhero book, I try to make "her" metaphors have something to do with technology like faster than a megabyte or hotter than an overheated laptop, etc.

Good luck!

Cassy Pickard said...

Oh boy, I sure have those favorite crutch words. My husband's business partner squirms each time I start a sentence with, "So...." He says it's when I drop a bomb into the conversation or ask some really uncomfortable question. Then there is "actually." I use that baby so much I'm not even sure what it means any more.

Liz, again you're right on target. As I actually expected from you.

Melanie said...

Liz, I'm right there with you. I just love using "just". lol Maybe it's because I'm southern. I don't know. It just keeps coming out. Thanks for the word count link. I'll put it to good use. Just sayin'. lol

Sylvia Rochester said...

A crisp and fresh manuscript? You bet. I agree the majority of the items you listed are not necessary, but all of them? Cutting for the sake of cutting can result in too sterile an environment, one void of the flow and flavor that defines your voice. One should make sure changeS sound natural, not contrived. A good gumbo is better with a pinch of this and a dash of that. THAT said, I'll bow to your editing any day.

Liz Lipperman said...

Ha Ha, Lindsay. Get your scissors out and ready. As I mentioned, sometimes you just have to use a certain word as it is part of your voice, but you have to know when enough is enough.

Thanks for commenting.

Liz Lipperman said...

Kari, I hadn't thought about using metaphors that match the theme of your book. I love your technical ones. Maybe I could uses food ones like as air was as stale as seven-day old bread. As salty as my mother's gravy. I love it.

Liz Lipperman said...

Cassy, I love "so." That's definitely one of the words I have to be careful of, along with okay and definitely.

I think your friend knows you all to well.

Donnell said...

LOL, funny post, Liz. Lots of great advice here.

I snip qualifiers such as began, started, kept, continued. If you've been told to reduce words or want to up the pacing these weakening words should be first.

I also think along with snipping, proofing might be the best advice, and reading your work out loud. It's amazing how your ear knows what your eyes can't see.

Tell those edits you'll be seeing them, Liz. Congratulations on Ducks in a Row.

Liz Lipperman said...

LOL, Melanie. You're just too cute!!

And Sylvia, leave it to you to bring a little sanity to this blog. You are absolutely correct, especially when writing dialogue. How many times do you read a contest entry where the dialogue is so stiff you want to scream "buy a contraction, for Pete's sake?" We all have our voice and we have to make sure we keep that intact.

Thanks for commenting, you two.

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, Donnell, thanks for stopping by. Reading out loud is advice a lot of writers have suggested and one I haven't tried yet. I definitely will give that a go.

Another thing I see a lot of in contests is the overuse of the first name when they are in that person's head. I guess that's why I volunteer to judge contests. I come away with so much more than I give.

Donnell just finished coordinating the Daphne and did a bang-up job again this year. I'll bet you have a lot of things you see in contests repeatedly.
Care to share?

Cassy Pickard said...

Along with adverbs and connecting terms, I find I love certain verbs. So, I've started a pad (remember, I'm the Queen of Lists) that I keep on my desk. I try and keep track of which verbs just keep popping (all on their own) onto my page and play a "what else could I use" game with myself. Darn. There are times I wonder if I have the vocabulary of a six-year old.

June said...

Liz, as always, I just love your humor. I so get it and I'm totally there with you. I just don't understand how to replace "just". I mean, really, *just* just says it all. Don't you think? At least that's what she said, or was it he said? I guess I better pull out my clippers, or maybe the hedge trimmer, 'cause I have my work cut out for me in my current ms. Bummer.

Wolfgang A. Mozart said...

I am guilty of all of the above. As well as beginning sentences with "but" or "and." And what's really annoying to me is that I can go over my manuscript endlessly and continue to find these little suckers. But I don't know what to do except keep on printing, hunting and slashing. Sigh. (One of my favorite words. Also, the characters in my story are often "distracted." Oh yeah, and then there's the passive voice issue. But then, I always say, the real writing happens in the re-writing :)

BTW, Liz, what is a CP?

-- Manhattan Mary writing as Mozart, because hey, I OWN the little scamp!

Liz Lipperman said...

Hello, Cassy, queen of lists. Meet Liz, queen of cliches.

I'm curious what your overused verbs are. They're probably mine, too. And probably - that's another one I use a lot.

If you're using Word, you can check out exactly what age level your vocabulary is. Mine tells me every time I check the word count. I've never hit kindergarten, but sometimes, I'm not "smarter than a fifth grader!!"

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, June, as always I love your comments. I think JUST is my favorite word. It sounds like I have company.

I'm going to send my manuscript to Sylvia when I'm finished and let her put back all my "voice" words!! LOL

Liz Lipperman said...

Oh, Wolfgang, I'm guessing by now, you've heard it from your agent about starting sentences with And or But. It's one of her favorite peeves. And I agree. LOL

I think it's safe to say that too much of anything is never a good thing. We'd all probably agree we need to snip, but Sylvia makes a valid point about staying true to our voice.

CP is critique partner. I have two and sometimes, they are without mercy! But (LOL) I have to say, they make me a better writer.

Cassy Pickard said...

Lordy, lord, over used verbs! Well, Liz, I can make quite the list. You'd think that if the list was long, then...well... each one wouldn't be overused. Not true.

Ran
Thought
Her fingers twined
Shrugged
Bit her lip

I'll have to stop before I put everyone to sleep.

Cassy Pickard said...

On another note-- Wolfgang, I wrote you on the blog over the weekend. I'm not sure if you would have seen it. But, the basic message was that we'll be sure to set a seat at the table for you in Nashville, just in case Mary let's you come along.

Mary Martinez said...

This is WONDERFUL! Do you want to slash and dice mine?

This is my least favorite part of the business. Editing. I want to write the thing, send it off and be onto my next project. LOL!

Liz Lipperman said...

Cassy, those are some of my favs, too.

Mary, that is so strange that you hate editing. I have always said IT (that's for you, Lindsay) is my FAVORITE part of writing where I try to take my initial stuff and turn it into something brilliant. Yeah, right!!

Liz Lipperman said...

I forgot to say I'm on my way out the door to get my gray colored. Along with the bad eyesight, that's just another negative of growing old.

Anyway, the new beautiful me will comment when I return.

No cracks, Lindsay or I'll have to call you what I did last night. A hint - the first word was smart.

Donnell said...

Liz, I didn't know there'd be homework! Thanks for the praise on the Daphne. It's been a labor of love, and when I coordinate, I'm humbled. Along with new writers, I see a lot of GREAT writers.

You mentioned a lot of what I see in new writers, back story, an urge to over-explain, unnecessary prologues, or prologues that start off with an anonymous he and then name him at the bottom of the prologue, which leaves me to think why did they start him off anonymous if they planned to tell us in the first place. ;)

I so agree with what you mentioned about Mr. Maass, I work hard to do eliminate backstory in my own WIPS now, but I have to concur with what one of your posters said.... be careful not to edit out your voice.

There is an editing device out there that you can purchase that takes out all your repetitive words, adverbs, to be verbs, etc.

Someone mentioned they'd tried it on one of JK Rowling's chapters and couldn't believe what they'd found.

My artist friend Sylvia Rochester said it best. The first stroke is the freshest. I think this often applies in writing. Have fun editing, but don't edit out the storyteller.

Gin said...

My first ebook edits, with the pub company, edited out my voice, which I'm actually kinda glad for. I don't like the book as much, but I have a lot of knowledge I wouldn't have had without that experience and I can take 'the know' with me on my road to NY publication.

My second ebook was much better, but still written a while ago when I had less craft-honeage. ::grins:: Yeah, I make up my own words. It's the YA in me.

My list of words/phrases haunting my WIPs:

still
just
so
felt like/feel like
smile
shrug* (Liz pointed that one out to me.)
In fact,
Honestly, (Damn LY words)
quickly
truly
as if

After taking a Margie Lawson class, I use a lot less cliches.

I try to make my metaphors fit the narrator, too, like Kari. I'm irked when I see otherwise because I feel like I'm looking right in the author's eyes instead of through the characters.

I judge a lot of contests, too. Funny how much I've learned.

My contest pet peeve? I see character behavior switches a LOT. In one entry, the woman was too emotionally scarred to have intercourse with the hero. Four pages worth of explanation as to why she "just" couldn't do the naughty.
Then the dialogue.
Guy: Why not?
Girl: I just...just can't.
Guy: Well, I'm hot so I'm going to take my shirt off.
Girl: Well if you take your shirt off, I guess I should, too.

Takes her shirt off and can't help but rub against him skin-to-skin.

HUH?? Epic fail.

Oh, and another editing point for me? I abuse ellipsis. I'm at one with this horrid habit of mine.

One day, I shall overcome! Oh yes...I shall.

But not today.

Best,
Gin

Lindsay said...

Liz,
I tried the wordcounter web site. Granted I used an edited/CPed chapter but the results were interesting.
I think I'm going to start using it especially before sending a chapter off to my CP.
Thanks for the tip.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donnell, you crack me up. Your points are spot on for a lot of new writers and some not so new.

As long as we're talking about contests, another thing that rips me right out of a story is when an author writing a suspense/mystery gets me on the edge of my seat and then decides to tell me what the heroine/hero smelled or what the scenery looked like. It's been ingrained in our heads to use the five senses, so we do.

I love Sylvia's saying about the first stroke being the freshest. I'll keep that in mind.

I met my CP for lunch today and she handed me eight chapters she'd critiqued. I am surprised at how little she found to squak about. I must be learning something!!

Thanks for doing the homework.

Liz Lipperman said...

Gin, I so love your list, too. And you definitely have the YA voice down pat. Since I haven't read any of your adult stuff - oh wait a minute. I just read an erotic short story of yours. OMG!! Cold shower necessary.

Okay, you have the adult voice down, too. LOL

Thanks for commenting.

Liz Lipperman said...

You're welcome, Lindsay. Just for grins, what were your overused words?

Anita Clenney said...

You're peeking in my head again, Liz! I love qualifying words. Really, I do!You nailed it here. Is that a cliche!

BTW, you gave some great examples here. Great blog and one I needed to read.

Anita Clenney said...

I hear you, Mary. I want to plot it and put it on the page and have someone else fix my mistakes.

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, Anita, welcome back. I think it's pretty obvious we all love these words, and as one person noted, they aren't all bad if they are your voice.

I'm guessing you're starting the edits for your contracted book, right? How's that coming?

Lindsay said...

Liz,
My no-no words came in very low. Of course the chapter was one that had been edited tightly. Alison, the heroine's name came oout at the top which didn't surprise me. I can't wait to try the site on an unedited chapter.

Anita Clenney said...

Love the idea of matching metaphors. Isn't that similar to what Margie Lawson calls scene themes and character themes? Very nice.