Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now

The main thing about tightening, according to Rick Steele, Acquisitions Editor for AMG publishing, is clarity.

When we tighten our story, we're not just trying to make the sentences shorter. You may recall commenter Anita claiming that her lushness is wordy. For the most part, I don't agree (sorry, dear friend). Her style of writing is lush, but the purpose of her sentences are clear. Each word adds to the story and to the sensory experience of the reader.

Loose writing is hard to follow. All those extra words, in strange orders, the meaning skipping around, commas everywhere...

Make the sentence clear, make the meaning clear.

What I got from this CD is that the sentence length is not as important as sentence impact.

When you revise and tighten, do you have a certain process, certain words/phrases you look for first? Or do you go sentence by sentence? And how do you feel about my opinion on this? Anything to add?

48 comments:

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I go sentence by sentence looking for passivity, the unneeded "ly" adverbs, close POV, etc. It's very time consuming. Then if I spot recurring words, I do a find all and begin making them sparce. Now I'll add "Clarity" to the mix!!!

Thanks, Jessica!

Jody Hedlund said...

There are times when we want to add more details, like in an especially intense scene. But I like the idea of making each word "earn" its spot in our books.

Irritable Mother said...

I totally agree - length is not as important as impact.
I have been saying this to my kids when they are working on some form of writing for school. They ask if I think they should make the paper longer and I tell them to say what they need to say - that adding words just to increase the length is not going to improve the paper.

Jessica said...

Hi Eileen,
That sounds like an efficient process to me. I don't think I've looked for -ly words enough. Thanks for the comment!

Jessica said...

Hi Jody,
I like that idea too. Not that I always put it into action, but it seems like each word having a purpose would give more meaning.

Jessica said...

LOL Karen! That's funny about the length not making it better. So true. Great advice. :-)

Rita Gerlach said...

When I revise, I look for passivity, repeated words, pov, weak verbs, slow transitions, and the cardinal rule of fiction - show don't tell. Instead of saying a character is depressed, instead show through visceral actions her depression. She curls up into a fetal position on the bed, hugs the pillow, and sobs. She eats straight from the ice cream carton. Things that show the character's emotions gives the reader a 'visual' picture mentally of how the character is moving through the story, reacting and acting.

When I revise I look to have in almost every scene what the character is seeing, hearing, tasting, touching.

(P.S. Jessica, Amazon is saying all the people that preordered a copy of Surrender the Wind will be getting theirs in the mail by July 21!)

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm doing a series of posts from Dwight Swain's book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. And instead of using the word "clear", he uses the word "vivid". I just did a post about it.

It's a great reminder - we need to use words that will make our writing clear and vivid for our readers.

Words I look for: she felt, he watched, she saw, he looked, etc. Those are all words that distance the reader.

Marybeth Poppins said...

I'm pretty new at the "write tight" thing. I'm a vocabulary junky. I LOVE big words. But I agree that they have to be vivid and make sense. Not just a jumble of words to make me look more intelligent. In the end, it makes me look more like an idiot ;)

Jessica said...

Thanks for commenting Rita! All great advice. I'm def. still learning the show don't tell thingy myself.
But do I have to be depressed to eat ice cream out of the carton? That's a regular thing with me. LOL! (I know what you meant though, and they were great examples)
I saw your post about the books going out! I can't wait!!!

Janna Qualman said...

I think you've explained it well, and I agree. Brevity only gets us so far - and affects our word count. Clarity (in message AND in voice) trumps minimalization.

For me, it can be the physical act of going through the sentences, looking for technical ways to make it better, but I prefer listening, and going with what feels right to my writer's voice.

Jessica said...

Hi Katie,
I'm going to pop by and read that. For some reason I thought I was following you, but since I haven't seen that post, I guess I'm not. Hmmm....

Jessica said...

MaryBeth,
You would never look like an idiot! Big words are fun, but like you said, we have to be careful with them. Make sure they fit, etc.

I always loved how Anne of Green Gables adored big words. :-)

Jessica said...

Janna,
You're so right! Listening plays a huge part. I've heard tons of writers/authors recommend reading our work out loud. I've even heard an author recommend buying voice software that can read your sentences with no inflection. According to the author, you can really hear weird stuff then.

anita said...

Well, first off, I'd like to start by saying I'm thrilled with your opinion on this! How could I not be after you said such sweet things about my prose? Snort!

When I start tightening, I usually go sentence by sentence and read for clarity and continuity of thoughts/scenes. It's so easy--especially in first drafts when our writing is kind of stream of consciousness--to overlook thoughts that might feel perfectly coherent to us, but aren't portrayed in a logical way for the reader.

That's why we have to put on our reader's hat while in revision land, and make sure all of our thoughts come across like we meant for them to. Powerful and proactive sentences move the story forward. They don't bring it to a screeching halt while the reader tries to connect the dots in our loose or overly complex prose.

That said ... is it just me, or does it feel like we authors have to be somewhat psychic--attuned to all of our readers' different mindsets so we can assure everyone understands what we're trying to portray at all times?

Sheesh. Writing is hard. But what a payoff, to bring life to what was once nothing more than a few disjointed letters. :-)

Jessica said...

I completely agree! And I forgot to say that too, but it's true, we write and assume our thoughts are clear but it's not until we go back and reread that we can catch unclear meanings.
Great thoughts!

Donna M. Kohlstrom said...

I'm a sentence by sentence editing person.

Then I have someone read it and ask them if they get it/their interpetation of what I wrote. It's often a surprise what they think I said and what I meant to say! And then it's back to the editing again!

quixotic said...

"
What I got from this CD is that the sentence length is not as important as sentence impact"

I need to remember this quote!

Terri Tiffany said...

I try to find repeat words or extra adjectives that can go or adverbs and especially I try to find one verb that will fit instead of two.

Jessica said...

HI Donna,
That happens to me too. One word I think is particularly tricky is "it". When we're writing, we know what "it" means, but when reading sometimes the meaning is not clear.

Jessica said...

Hi Katie,
I hope I remember it too! LOL

Jessica said...

Terri,
I like how you said one verb to fit two words. Very smart of you.

Patti said...

I find the best way is to read the sentence out loud. There's no hiding awkwardness and bad sentences when you hear them.

I agree that each word needs to earn their place. It can sure make editing a tedious process though.

Jessica said...

Hi Patti,
Thanks for stopping by and adding to the great advice. :-)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Jess: Wow, I'm impressed at your level of retention! You must have taken notes while listening to this cd!

When I edit, I go sentence by sentence, taking out unnecessary words that detract rather than add to the meaning. I also read aloud, to hear the cadence, looking for alliterations or words that sound odd or out of place. Lastly,I pray for just the right word or phrase, telling the Lord that I love the people I'm writing for and want to help them see Him clearer.

Jen

Jessica said...

Hey Jen,
Well I'm impressed how you pray when you write. I don't do that as much as probably should.

Jennifer Shirk said...

When I edit, my manuscript gets longer. LOL!
But I do try to chop out filler words so that my actual sentences get to the point quicker.

Jessica said...

Jennifer, that's pretty funny! Maybe you're already a sparse writer, so you actually have to go back in and cushion things up?

Faith said...

I'm a line-by-line reviser as well. I look for awkward phrasing, improper cadence, those blasted '-ly' adverbs, passive verbs, and so forth. I think tightening up for clarity is so very important... of course, it's always easier to see where someone else's work could use some clarity as opposed to your own! :)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I go sentence by sentence and after a while there are certain words I know to look for in my own writing. "That" is a very bad one for me. Adverb abuse is often rampant as well.

I really like what you said about sentence length not necessarily mattering - especially because I write lots of long sentences;)

Danyelle said...

Great post. I'd never thought about it much, but I agree. Clarity is the thing we should strive for as writers. It doesn't do to have a beautiful story if you can't communicate it well to others.

I go line by line by line when I edit. >.<

Kara said...

Great point! I love to add description to my writing, but it doesn't have to be wordy. Choosing the right words can get your point across without being lengthy:)

Kara said...

Great point! I love to add description to my writing, but it doesn't have to be wordy. Choosing the right words can get your point across without being lengthy:)

Kara said...

Great point! I love to add description to my writing, but it doesn't have to be wordy. Choosing the right words can get your point across without being lengthy:)

Terresa said...

I go sentence by sentence when I revise and edit my writings.

I like the emphasis on clarity, clarity, clarity.

Deb Shucka said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking post and the great ideas here.

Jessica said...

HI Faith, very true. I'm judging contest entries right now and they're actually helping me to see where I'm going wrong in my own work.

Thank you for stopping by!

Jessica said...

Hey Kate,
"it" is my word. LOL But I've been know to abuse "that". Funny about the adverbs. Sometimes they're okay, but it's good you know to catch them.

Jessica said...

Hi Kara,
Having problems with the comment button? LOL!
Great comment!

Jessica said...

Hi Terresa,
Yeah, I'd never even thought of clarity really, until I listened to this cd.

Hi Deb,
Thanks for stopping by! :-)

Robyn Campbell said...

Jessica: On the MG novel that I just finished I went sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph.

My problem is this,I don't see certain things until someone points them out. No matter how many times I rake through my story. Then I think, why didn't I see this before?

I want to get to a point where I see these things on my own. But will I ever? To be continued. Great post. Thanks for sharing. :)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Jessie;
Before you put me on a pedestal, don't.
This is my typical prayer: "Help! Please!" It takes around 4.5 seconds. God is so faithful, even when we are in a hurry.

Blessings,
Jen

Jessica said...

Hi Robyn,
There are things I don't see either. That's why crit partners are so helpful. Don't feel bad, it happens to all of us. :-) Thus the job of an editor. LOL!

Jessica said...

Wait Jen,
I have to take you down? LOL Still, I could do to remember God when I write. He's always a main character in my stories anyway. LOL

Genny said...

When I revise and tighten, I always look for things like "and" and "but" and "just". I write differently on my blog than I do in my manuscripts (more like how I talk, which often includes these words) so sometimes they show up in my other work.

Great post, as always, Jessica!

Genny

Jessica said...

Thanks Genny.

I write differently here too. Great words to look for! I recently found myself really overusing "just".

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

I recently went through my book sentence by sentence. If I have to re-read a sentence to understand it, it gets an overhaul.

I watch for typos, plot holes, POV, melodrama, characters acting more like me than themselves, and other things. I'm glad that edit is finished. For now.

Meanwhile, I hear the main character of Book 2 clamoring for my attention. So demanding.

Blessings,
Susan

Jessica said...

LOL! Sometimes they're that way.
:-) Is book 2 completely different or part of a series?