Sunday, January 07, 2007

Does This Adverb Make My Sentence Look Fat?

Running on Empty
45-cup coffee percolator on empty

(Click here for the unabridged version of this entry.)

My second draft of Covenant went off to Koboca late Saturday night, and one red pen has bit the dust. I hustled to do as much polishing as I could when I got word that the manuscript was about to go to the editor. For one thing, I wanted to be sure we had no duplication of effort, since I'd already changed the tense from present to past and broken up the chapters into smaller pieces, based on specs we'd covered in other e-mail exchanges.

I also wanted to do some verbal housecleaning. Some gremlins are probably still in hiding, because every time I've gone over the manuscript I've found something new to fix. And I've gone over that manuscript four times since I signed the contract two months ago....

The first installment of Book #4 has gone to my critique group and I've started drafting Book #5. The characters and their story have become an old flannel shirt that's soft and pliable and very comfortable against my skin. Covenant was a new shirt: a little starchy in spots, needing to be laundered and broken in.

New shirts look really pretty. One doesn't want to wrinkle them.

Subsequent volumes have informed the tweaking of the first one. I've established a rhythm. I know things now that I didn't know then, which relates to both the storytelling and the critiquing. I am much more on the lookout for unnecessary adverbs, semicolons, and other editorial bugaboos. The multiple tweaks are like the layers of an onion as I read for tense, then for tightening, then for structure, then for rhythm, and so on.

Or they can be like changing a tire, as Mary taught me one memorable winter morning in Massachusetts, when we'd chipped her flat out of a slab of ice from the previous night's storm. One tightens the lug nuts in multiple rounds, a little at a time. Do all the tightening in one spot at a time and you end up with an unbalanced tire and probably some bent metal.

All that massaging does an excellent job of breaking down my resistance to change. I might not be ready to restructure a sentence on the second tweak, but by the time of the fourth tweak it's begging for alteration.

And, oh lordy, the adverbs...

That bugaboo hadn't become clear to me until after I'd workshopped Covenant. I have Belea Keeney to thank for my consciousness-raising; she joined my critique group about halfway through Book #2 and zeroed in on the little devils. They hadn't bothered the rest of the group, but I've learned that some genres and styles are adverb-heavy.

I've made some drastic cuts in that department (as opposed to "cut them down drastically"), finding ways to get around some of the adverbs and eliminating others altogether. Adverbs aren't evil, but like semicolons they are something of a controlled substance. I was overdosing on 'em.

Now I'll see how the editor views it all. My next priority is to tweak Books #2 and #3. I already know that the third volume suffers from flashback-itis. Some of that is necessary to the structure, but I can fix the rest by shuffling scenes around. I just have to keep tabs on where I am and what day it is, which can be challenging enough in the "real world."

I've also learned that manuscripts make excellent kitty launch pads for "lappy-poo time," which the cats have taken in shifts.

Today is play day. Then it's on to the next Tweak-Fest, Tense-O-Rama, and Adverb Round-Up. I'm polishin' up my pens and already seein' red.

# # #

The Poets & Writers Speakeasy Forum has a thread entitled, "secret thoughts of writers." The person who began the thread listed eight, ranging from declarations of genius to fears of idiocy and various spots in-between, and solicited more.

Here's the one I added for me:


"Never mind the Nobel Prize! My series will alter the Zeitgeist and become a cult classic for generations to come, who will dress up as my characters at conventions, pen their own fan fic and parodies, and be inspired by my story to Save The World."

Okay, I'm slinking back to my corner now.... :)

"Oh -- and did I mention all the doctoral dissertations it'll spawn?" ;-p


Thanks to Joanne Merriam, responding to a Speakeasy thread about worldbuilding, for providing the link to Patricia C. Wrede's Worldbuilder. I slapped that URL right on my Writing, Editing, and Research Resources page with the following blurb:

"Contains just about every conceivable question to consider when you're worldbuilding (i.e., determining the details of the environment in which your characters exist). The site is geared toward fantasy worlds but is applicable to real worlds as well."

It is a phenomenal list.

# # #

A while back I was looking for the origin of the quote, "Writing is easy. Just stare at the computer until beads of blood form on your forehead." Turns out it depends where you look.

It's ascribed, in various versions, to Dorothy Parker here; Parker, with Mary McCarthy offered as an alternative here; Gore Vidal here; Gene Fowler here; Anon (paraphrasing Red Smith) here (which is where I drew the version quoted above); and Unknown here.

Red Smith, one of the most popular sportswriters in the US, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976, though "beads of blood" does not appear in this list of his quotes. I did, however, find what may have been the original quote ascribed to Smith: "Writing a column is easy. You just sit in front of a typewriter until small beads of blood appear on your forehead." So wrote Walter Pinkus to Michael Swaine, editor-at-large at Dr. Dobb's Portal: The World of Software Development.

Of these sites, my favorite is the Quotes on Writing. I particularly adore Winston Churchill's: "Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public."


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