Thursday, May 23, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-General Editing
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 12, 2013
First drafts contain many errors, but the simplest ones are often overlooked. We’ve eliminated the telling, removed icky adverbs, and tightened our POV. We’ve done all the fun stuff that is required when editing. What could we have forgotten?
We suggest that, after editing for the obvious things, writers go through the manuscript once again and ask the following questions:
Is the writing simple and straightforward?
This means that we say what we want to in the most direct and clear way possible. We avoid long words when a shorter one is available and we don’t clutter the prose with adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. It’s tempting to weigh the narrative down with elaborate descriptions, but good writers resist this urge and remove what isn’t necessary.
Have we overused expressions and cliché words?
If the writing contains babies being thrown out with the bathwater, reaping and sowing, needles in haystacks or cliché sayings along the same vein, we delete them. We want the prose to be unique and distinct, and clichés do not do this. Search for the most commonly used clichés such as:
He saw the writing on the wall.
Don’t cry over spilled milk.
Better late than never.
Thinking outside of the box.
At the end of the day...
The bottom line is…
Easy as 123 or pie.
Smart as a whip or dumb as a stump.
Sharp as a tack.
Like taking candy from a baby.
Love/hate makes the world go round.
Selling/Going like hotcakes.
In the nick of time.
When life gives you lemons…
What goes up must come down.
The sharpest knife in the drawer/handiest tool in the shed/brightest bulb.
Everything but the kitchen sink.
Used carefully and sparingly, a cliché phrase or two may be just the right addition. We can use them for effect in characterization or dialogue, but we should avoid clichés that are not carefully chosen.
Is the tense consistent?
Check the tense throughout the story. Make sure verbs agree with the tense chosen. For example:
Present tense: She creeps along the wall. Her fingers touched the chipped masonry.
“Touched” isn’t a present tense verb. We should have used “touch” here instead.
Past tense: She crept along the wall. Her fingers touch the chipped masonry.
Here, “touch” should be “touched.” It seems simple, but often these mistakes are overlooked because we see on the page what we know we should see in our minds, especially after several revisions. While we’re at it, we should make sure to check that the tense we’ve chosen makes sense to our story. In other words, could the story be better if written in past tense instead of present (or vice versa)?
Are there any echoes?
Sometimes writers repeat a word or a phrase because we want to create a certain effect. When rewriting, we should check how often we do this, and determine if it really does do what we want it to. It’s easily overdone and when we’ve used this too often in a single manuscript, it loses effectiveness.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
This cliche is wrong, wrong, wrong. Pie is not easy. Perhaps we get the filling right, but making the perfect crust is very difficult. We’ve tried and failed several times.
This is also quite meaningless, because if ever we have the opportunity to try to take a sucker or a piece of chocolate from a baby, we’ll discover it is not such an easy task.
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