Edit out the habits: How to Improve Work

There are certainly a few recurring ‘snags’ as it were in the cloth of my carefully constructed words. By editing and work-shopping I’ve been lucky to identify the trends in my work that make it less accessible to the reader. If you have to work hard to read something, then you’re more inclined to give up part-way though. For my rambling thoughts on what puts me off reading a story, there is a post here: Scared of Reading – actually funny story. I started writing this blog post and it originally turned into that one. So I decided to split it into two complete and hopefully coherent articles! Fingers are crossed.

But here are the trends that I learnt to look out for in my work.

  1. Passive verbs passive verbs.

My characters had many limbs that did things for them, but instead I needed to just write, that the characters –did-the-thing- much simpler, much clearer. So for example: Her hand reached out toward the glowing embers. – Passive. What would be better is: She reached toward the glowing embers. – Active. It’s just easier to imagine what the protagonist is doing.

  1. Did uh…did that just happen?

A lot tends to happen to my heroine as she goes about her journey. But I was informed, and then realised that although she reacts physically to the things around her and says things, the reader was being cut out of her thoughts. This was causing a second problem in that my reader felt disconnected from her and therefore my storytelling was less effective. The manuscript I’m working on, was supposed to have a close-third person narration, but too often it was just narration and I wasn’t as close in the third-person as I thought I was. Cue thoughts and responses! It sounds very juvenile but I listed a number of responses such as:

‘She was surprised’, ‘shocked, Sarah turned,’ ‘torn between’, ‘relieved’ etc and then used them as a prompt sheet to include things more in my writing. The result has so far been successful and feedback very positive. Hooray!

  1. Too many wonderful, amazing, blue, sparkling adjectives.

Description is a beautiful thing. However, going through everything with a cut-happy pixie on my shoulder I realised something else that I’d been previously told. I have a tendency to repeat myself. With repetition and a build-up of adjectives, some of the writing was getting lost in itself. Cut, cut, cut! And the work made more impact. I kept the best phrases and descriptions or reworked the ones I really loved and couldn’t bring myself to part with.

  1. For a moment she was a little afraid.

In a final bid to avoid unnecessary repetition in the manuscript I did a ctrl-f word search for a few phrases such as ‘For a moment’ and ‘a little’. I’ll tell you something, I use those tags far too often! I think within 30,000 words I ended up deleting them over 50 times. They didn’t add anything to the story, the plot, the description. They were filler! All they did was water down the writing and stop the protagonist committing to any particular emotion. If she was ‘A little afraid’ why is she just not afraid? If ‘she paused for a moment,’ why doesn’t she just ‘pause.’ Cut!

Everyone has different version of these phrases that they fall back on. My nemesis as I’ve started to refer to them. They’re things I don’t even remember writing! Maybe I don’t, maybe they just appear… That must be it. Those and spelling/grammar errors.

It may be worth going through any work under editing and seeing if you can find one or two and then doing a word search to find out just how many times they sneak in, pesky little things. I definitely go through additional phases of ‘word of the day’ that will sneak in over and again in a chapter if I took a shine to a certain sound when the chapter was in construction. Thank goodness for editing!

The best thing about recognising (the latest) failing of you work, is that when you go on to write new things, you are aware of them and so you make them less often. This does open up the path to making shiny new mistakes, but I like to believe that by slowly eliminating bad habits and trends I’m improving every time I do a thorough edit.

I’m sure there is even evidence to support this as whenever I write I feel it’s better than what I was able to write 6 months ago. I still need to edit the draft, but the process is less painful. I know what I’m looking for, what needs to be edited for clarity what is actually my style. Maybe I still use too many adjectives- but that is because I like long and rambling description. That is a choice, it’s not just the adjectives sneaking in a little.

What are the writing habits you have learnt to look out for? Let me know 🙂

Fibi xx

Scared of Reading?

As a writer I believe it is important that the words are clear and the meaning, vision of what I am saying is easy for the reader to picture. I’m not saying I would like to spoon feed plot because it is also important that ye old brain-cogs get a work out sometimes as well, and if you have to work and remember and think about the story, then you do get more from it.

But in terms of making the writing clear, for me I’m likely to turn away if the writing is too much like hard work and I think the same applies to a storyline that starts to seriously disappoint or concern me. I have to admit that I’ve become a terrible reader and so scared about the emotional impact of what I’m reading that I really have to take a mental run up to books. Luckily in all of this I have discovered Robin Hobb, and she is amazing.

What am I afraid of reading? Well, as an aspiring writer I’m terrified of finding my book already published. The story I’ve been slaving over, written by someone else (better) and in the bookshops. This has turned into something of a recurring nightmare.

Secondly, I worry too much about the characters. There has to be a happy ending for me to enjoy reading the book. I have to feel confident that the author will provide me with a sense of resolution. The first book I really put down half-way through the Juliet Marriliers Blade of Fortriu. I was so invested in the narrative that when it reached a mid-way point, and it would not be possible for resolution to be complete, I had to put it down. It took me over a year to re-gather my courage and return to the story and I couldn’t start at the beginning in case it was too much! (Such a reading wimp!)

But although this sense of ‘happy ever after’ is I demand from a story I’m not convinced if I would necessarily agree from a theoretical stand point. Shouldn’t ‘Happy ever after’ also be complicated, realistic, aspirational? Should I be a more emotionally mature and complex person and encourage that in my reader? I’m not promising anything.

Thirdly, a sure way to put me off a story is to falsely advertise.

I LOVED Trudi Canavans The Black Magicians Trilogy. I bought all three books because they were on offer and devoured them in two days back in 2005. I was therefore delighted when the first of the Age of Five was published and acquired it as a pre-order hardback. For the first chapter I was enchanted, enthralled and delighted that I would get to read the story of this amazing girl growing up to be a member of the white and the trials and challenges that would entail. Then the second chapter happened. Did anyone else feel utterly cheated? She was grown up. This was not the story of the girl growing into a woman. It may be petty by I felt so frustrated by the 360 of expected narrative that after struggling through the first third of the text, I put it down and haven’t picked it up again. I do plan to revisit it and hopefully connect with a series that I appreciate is loved by so many, but it’s at the bottom of my ‘to-read’ pile. I don’t forgive betrayal easily. Sorry book.

Finally, I tend not to read spooky stories, horror, crime or ‘true-life’ I know this narrows my field of literature and good writing but I realised a few years ago that my imagination doesn’t need help coming up with dream or nightmare material. I am usually very invested in what I’m reading and if I read for too long, I emerge a bit google-eyed and hazy on what is real and what is still the narrative replaying. When I read it is not so much imagining characters, it is experiencing their stories in 3d. It is amazing to go on so many adventures, but I certainly don’t want to provide my imagination with concrete horror to explore in my sleep! *shudder*

What would put you off a story? Should it have a happy ever after?

I bring the rain….Sorry!

photoIt’s a long and running joke that whenever I visit my Sister and the mini’s in Ireland it starts to rain. Literally, I’ve stepped off the plane onto a sunny runway and clouds have filled the sky within moments. My Sister has pulled up to the airport in summer clothes and stepped out of the car under a blue sky…however by the time I reach the car the torrent has usually begun and doesn’t cease until at least three days after I’ve left the country. I’m so very sorry Ireland – I try to make my visits brief…

However, visiting the Parents of Mr L over the past few months. I seem to have bought a similar curse to Devon. The weather in the run up to Christmas was horrendous, truly awful deluges and severe flooding.  Mr L’s lovely Mother did her very best to show me the town and surrounding area, but it is quite difficult to see through hammering rain and from the inside of the car. Although I did truly appreciate the effort and agree that, whatever the weather, the coastline is beautiful.  Guess what happen the VERY MINUTE that I drove out of county? Blue skies. Mr L and his family went for a gorgeous walk in winter sunshine and it dried up all the rain.

Maybe though, the curse is broken. Please find below proof that I have experienced sunshine whilst on holiday. (There was of course at least one small deluge as soon as I got out of a car, but this curse breaking is going to take time…)

I have put up original and edited photos, please let me know which you prefer! Edits of course are by Pixlr Express+

What do you think?

Photoorig

pic picorig

Scottish Thistle

photo

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to visit the historic Hatfield House. Hatfield house is famous as a home to Elizabeth I. The spot that Elizabeth learnt that she was queen of England, and her Sister Mary wasn’t going to have her executed (as she was deaded) is also located on the grounds. I have to say it was a beautiful day and the grounds are beautiful. If you have a chance to visit, I recommend that you do. The entrance fee to the house is a bit steep at £15.50, but £3 to wander through the extensive grounds and gardens is well worth the money on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

I spent a few hours happily snapping photographs with my phone and have started to edit them, so they’ll start trickling onto this blog over the next few days.

I have to say at this point, that I love scheduling posts! I can go to work tomorrow, guilt free, in the knowledge that my blog is still receiving attention and fresh updates.

Now, the photographs. There were several bunches of thistles, and I took this photo for my dear Mother, the victim of my short story regarding her culinary skills.  My Mum’s family are all Scottish by blood. She was, however, born and raised in England. She’s as English as they come, but she’s not allowed to watch Braveheart. Mother + Braveheart results in several weeks of impromptu lectures about the English and Scottish freedom, neeks n’ tatties (leeks and potatoes) etc etc etc… and so it’s banned from the house. However, this thistle is for you Mum.

I seem to apply the same pixlr filters to all of my floral photographs and I’ll post up the order that I work in shortly. As ever, please leave me a comment and let me know which version you prefer, the edited version, or the raw image.

Fi

Thistle.Raw

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Winter Creeps In

Winter Creeps In

This is an original, raw image taken on my iphone. I’ve done a few edits on it below, but I think I just prefer the original image. It seems a little bit more ghostly, although I do enjoy making it red and a bit more fantastical.

wintercreepsin

Let me know what you think!

Fi