Monday, November 30, 2009

Shiftless Sluggardly Words

It was a busy holiday weekend, but here and there I managed to open up my main KINDRED file and do a bit of spit polish editing. One of the things I saved for last is something I think all writers should do at some point during the editing process, and that's a search and replace for words we know we overuse, or those superfluous words like "really" and "just" and "very" that sneak their way into our manuscripts to water down our prose. I tend toward laziness; it's so much easier to fall back on several comfortable, but imprecise, words rather than hunt for one this is vivid or unusual, or gives a more nuanced spin to whatever I'm trying to convey.

This is especially true when it comes to stage business, or character choreography, or whatever you want to call the process of moving characters physically through scenes. Here are a few of my overused (and lazy) words that I did search/replace for over the holiday weekend:

looked (he/she/I looked)
watched (he/she/I watched)
turned (he/she/I turned)
that (if the sentence reads clearly without it, I nix it)
out of (when "from" would work as well, although in half the cases "out of" stayed). This one I check for brevity's sake, always on the look out for words to trim.
of the (this phrase generally means I've overwritten something. I've written "the X of the Y" instead of just "the Y" or "the X." Sometimes I reworded it altogether with a stronger noun that needed no modifying)
saw (he/she/I saw): I often use this construct when it isn't necessary. Example: "He saw the bird dive bomb the cat." If we are in his POV, then of course "he" saw it. "The bird dive bombed the cat" can suffice. The instances when I chose to leave in the "saw" were mostly in Seona's first person POV. In those cases it had to do with her voice. There's a certain rhythm I try to create with Seona's voice, and sometimes extra word padding contributes to that. For that reason I'll include it, whereas I wouldn't in Ian's more succint voice.

In some cases, changing these words caused me to rewrite the sentence rather than simply replacing Word A for Word B. Invariably I ended with a stronger, and often shorter, sentence. I also recommend reading several paragraphs around the word you've replaced, before moving on, to be sure you haven't unknowingly created an echo of that new word, used a few paragraphs upstream or down.

What words do you tend to overuse? Leave them in the comments section (and get them out of your system for the day!). Maybe you'll mention one I haven't consciously noticed in my own writing, or I've mentioned one for you.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Bethankit. It's a Scots word meaning "God be thanked." I've used it often in my novel, KINDRED. I'm using it today to express my gratitude for the many blessings I've been given.
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

For a warm house, and food, and clothing, bethankit.

For my husband, a man after your own heart, bethankit.

For a friend who went into hospital last week, looking at possible open heart surgery, who yesterday, after much prayer on her behalf, and many tests and dire predictions, has been given a sudden clean bill of health, bethankit.

For getting in contact with the photographer whose image so captures the heart and soul of KINDRED, and being able to order my very own copy to put by my desk while I work, bethankit.

For finishing up the edit on KINDRED today, and reaching a word count of 158K and change, bethankit!

I hope you all have many blessings to count and recount to the Lord, the giver of all good things, this season. Blessings big and small. Blessings in hard times. Blessings in plenty. Feel free to share some here!

Here's a new holiday recipe. I've tried it once this autumn and will no doubt make it again before the New Year rolls around:

Easy Cranberry Cobbler
3 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup butter, melted

Place cranberries in a lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish; sprinkle with walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar. Set aside. Combine egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar; beat at high speed of electric mixer until smooth and slightly thickened. Add flour and butter; beat at low speed until smooth. Spoon batter over berry mixture; bake at 325 oven for 45-50 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve cobbler warm; top each serving with a scoop of ice cream. Yield: 6 servings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(top photo by ecpark, Flickr)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daydreaming Cover Art

While thinking of putting together a wish list of cover photo and art for KINDRED, I stumbled across a particular photo on Flickr yesterday, and have finally pulled myself away from staring at it to post a link to it here.

If you're so inclined, go take a look. I'm going back to stare at it some more. The girl needs a bit more clothes on, and curlier hair. Otherwise she is SO Seona. I won't even go into the whole "rivers as boundaries," and "crossing rivers" symbolism that permeates the story.

Yes I will. Here's a brief snip, one of many:

Copyright 2009 Lori Benton

“Da’s Highland-born, from a place called Glendessary, but he went to Inverness to be a bookbinder. That’s where one of my Lindsay uncles met him. My uncle brought Da home to their croft in Aberdeen. I suppose the family thought an acquaintance with a fellow hailing from the wild Highlands fine and good, but when that fellow took a fancy to their sister…. Well, Mam was old enough to marry, but they insisted she was needed at home.” He shrugged. “True enough, but so was their wanting to wed.”

“She liked him back?” I felt foolish in asking, like a child caught up in a story. Inverness… Glendessary… Aberdeen. Here we stood, hands bound and clasping, yet I felt like Ian stood across some wide river, trying to tell me what was over on his side. A leaf fell between us, landing on my hand, a splash of yellow. Ian turned our palms so it dropped into the cup of our fingers.

“Aye, she liked him back,” he said, with a look I felt down to my toes. Just that quick, he’d crossed back over that river to me.

[end snip]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On A Saturday

What I did today, between bouts of editing......

And then I made happy frog cookies.....

Getting there with the decorating. These were a trial batch. I'm attempting to perfect a winter scarf. I love baking, and find it another fun creative outlet, especially when I'm listening to a good audio book.

Today's book, THE LOST ART OF GRATITUDE, an Isabel Dalhousie novel, by Alexander McCall Smith. Set in Scotland and read by Davina Porter, one of my favorite readers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mostly about editing

My ideas for a post today are all over the place, so I'll just jump and in and maybe they will tie together.

I'm happy with my progress in editing Kindred. Anyone notice that word count over in the side bar? From an original word count of 325,000+ it's fallen to 162,000 and change. I know that's still long for a novel these days, debut or otherwise, but considering where I started from, it's edging into the realm of the possible now, right? I'm only halfway through the current edit, so I have hopes of getting it deep down into the 150s. How lovely it would be to drop below 150K.....

Yesterday evening I read a post by agent Wendy Lawton, about overwriting, and showing vs. telling, and when is it too much showing. I tend to show too much, which means on the macro level some things are rendered as scenes that really could be dealt with using narrative summary, and on the micro level, there's too much stage business and body language. Anyone else have this tendency? Then I urge you not to miss Wendy's post this week Following The Rules: Fiction, over at Between The Lines. She strongly reinforced what I've been trying to put into practice on this edit. It's all about pace, and focus, and not giving the reader literary whip-lash (her phrase, and I like it).

I woke up this morning at 3:30am, thinking about her advice, and mentally editing Kindred, and obviously not falling back to sleep, so I got up and put in an extra hour of work before my day officially started.

Now I'm very sleepy....

Monday, November 09, 2009

Progress Report

Taking stock on this Monday morning of where I am with my projects.

KINDRED: still waiting to hear from three agents, while I edit that word count down. Once the edit is complete, I plan to query more agents. But I'd like that wc to be as low as possible before I do. I didn't think another line-by-line edit would accomplish much, but a couple of months with my mind completely on another project has given some objectivity.

WILLA: I completed Chapter 5 this morning, and did a word count on the ms. It's already 16,500K. That's too many words! Where did they all come from? I'm still in Act 1. Steady breath.... I need a few days to let the possibilities for Chapter 6 stew around in my brain, so I've printed out the five chapters and will do a hard copy edit (the best method I've found when it comes to cutting; I see things on the page that I'm blind to on the screen). By the time the edit's done I should have a clear direction about what needs to happen in Chapter 6.

After a stretch of writing first draft, editing in hard copy is like being let out for recess! It's work too, but on an entirely different level. Sort of like the difference between, say, applying paint to a masonite board already gessoed and sanded smooth... and cutting down the tree and feeding it through a shredder and gathering the bits and soaking them in water and stuffing them in a press and creating the board.

Or however masonite is made. I could take the time to research it, but there's a stack of chapters waiting for me and my blue pen.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Time and Place

Editing of Kindred is going well, and I'm excited to see the amount of words I can still shave off of the story. Here's a short snippet of the scene I worked on last night and this morning, along with photos taken October of 2006 of the area where Kindred is set, a set of hills and ridges once called the Carraways, near present-day Asheboro, NC. It's the Uwharrie National Forest* now, but way-back-when, before the village that was Asheboro was even named, there were homesteads here, and later gold mines, and always lots and lots of trees and streams and rivers. I chose this area as a setting for a couple of reasons. I didn't want the story set on the frontier, which was deep into the Blue Ridge Mountains by the 1790s, but I do love a steep, hilly, difficult terrain. I needed ridges and draws and waterfalls, and secret places for my characters to stumble upon.

(excerpt removed)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Uphill... both ways

Aside from those rare instances like last week, when my characters spilled a flood of dialogue out to me in a single morning (and which I'm still making heads or tails of), first draft writing is excruciatingly slow for me.

I often wonder what it's like for writers who whip through their first drafts in the space of a few months (or those hikers who can hustle up a mountain without the frequent breathers us regular mortals take). The only time I accomplished anything resembling a fast first draft was in writing a piece of fan fiction (for the movie Ever After, with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott), which turned out to be about 50,000 words long. I wrote it for a group of friends who were also fans of the movie, from November 1998 through January or February 1999. But I wasn't being too concerned with things like historical accuracy, or research. It was a simple, straightforward story, a classic romance plot: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wises up and gets girl back. I was mostly concerned with echoing as many themes from the movie as I could, to capture that particular flavor. The only research required was repeated viewing of the movie.

Today was a slow writing day on WILLA, as I picked my way through a conversation in the wake of a violent action and some bad news delivered to my main characters. Someone has lots of 'splaining to do, but how much 'splaining at one go is too much? How much does the reader really need, this early on? How can I be sure I explain enough, so that the reader isn't left in confusion? Too, I need to make sure my characters aren't simply sitting around, stunned at what took place, and talking on and on (and on) about What It All Means. It's a slow process, feeling my way step by step, line by line, putting in words, taking them out, putting them back, trimming, cutting, pasting them away for safekeeping.

It'll get done. Just wish my pace didn't always put me at the back of the pack. A bit dusty back here!

To offset this tedious first draft work, and for some much needed brain rest, I've begun another edit on KINDRED, which feels a lot more to me like coming down a mountain than laboring up. It's surprising what a little objectivity and a lot of ruthlessness will still accomplish at this point. Based on my progress with the first 8-9 chapters, my goal is to see another 10-20K disappear, before I reach The End, again. I'm keeping track over in the side bar.

Wish me luck! Especially, pray for me.