By Margo Hoornstra
My turn to blog but what to write about? Those Hot August Nights and Favorite Summer Vacations are the topics this month. Let me see. Hot August Nights – Dog Days of Summer – Teach An Old Dog New Tricks. Ah, there! A topic I can use. I’ll even throw in a reference to vacation in order to remain bloglitically correct.
A little over a year ago, a completed manuscript of mine was going nowhere. An editor who has contracted virtually everything I’ve offered her over the past six years read it, requested rewrites, read it again after those and passed. She even suggested I submit to a different line at the house. Maybe that was the problem. Two editors there did much the same as she had, then ultimately passed.
Enter editor number one with a call for submissions on a new, Dearly Beloved wedding stories series. Taking a vacation (ahem!) from Completed Manuscript Going Nowhere, I penned two novellas she absolutely loved (her words, not mine) then quickly contracted. Now those are put to bed, in the editorial sense, Night Stars and Mourning Doves released in June, Only If You Dare release date to be announced.
In and around completing the Dearly Beloveds, I did a few manuscript exchanges with my critique partner and worked as a content and line editor for an independent publisher. Boy did I get good at ferreting out the defects in the manuscripts I reviewed (with all due respect to CP, of course). I could spot a section of telling that needed to be shown. Pick out weak sentences and make them stronger. Even suggest plot twists and, forget those dangling participles, what about the story arcs left dangling, literally, at the end.
My message to these authors was clear. Fix them or get rid of them! I became heady with the power I wielded. Until I ran out of their work and it was time to bring out Completed Manuscript Going Nowhere and do my best to make it into Completed Manuscript Going Somewhere. First I had to figure out what was wrong with it.
To paraphrase – What a difference a year makes. Turns out the blatant flaws I’d so readily recognized in the work of others were alive, well and thriving in mine. Here’s a sample of what I learned I had learned.
Show don’t tell – man oh man did I have plenty of those spots.
Eliminate all dialogue tags. Use character action instead.
“How are you?” she asked then extended her hand.
“How are you?” She extended her hand.
She extended her hand. “How are you?”
Avoid the use of adjectives and adverbs. Choose stronger nouns and verbs instead.
She closed the door angrily.
She slammed the door.
She walked strongly toward him.
She strode toward him.
One my CP so wisely pointed out, don’t have something begin to happen, have it happen.
It began to dawn on him.
It dawned on him.
She began to make her way down the stairs.
She made her way down the stairs.
As a final, visual aid, this is an excerpt from Completed Manuscript Going Nowhere I hope to change to Completed Manuscript Going Somewhere.
Version One: fatal flaws intact.
"If you hold these in place, I’ll attach them," he said as he situated a board under the nearest window. Then he motioned her to steady one end while he secured the other with an appropriately bent knee.
“Okay,” she replied then hurried over to do as he had asked her.
“Keep it steady,” he told her. Positioning a large nail midway between the top and bottom edges of the board, he hefted the hammer he then swung up and then back as he made ready to land the first strike.
“No! Wait!” A glint from under the sill had caught her eye and at the same time, something told her she’d be exceedingly sorry if she didn’t find out what it was.
She lunged forward letting her side of the board swing free and the hammer he still held veered up then nearly flew out of his hand as Brad struggled to bring the tool down in a harmless arc. Then the handle shifted out of his grip causing him to land a sharp, sideways blow. Struck at an odd angle, the nail bent in half before it imbedded, crossways, into the wood. With his thumb pinned firmly underneath.
“Damn!” he cried out.
“Oh! I’m so sorry!” Jenny informed him as she scrambled around the dangling board to kneel in front of him. Shooting her hand out, she rested it on his arm.
Hammer dropped to the ground, he yanked for what seemed like forever before he was finally able to pry himself loose.
“Damn,” he said on a shaky exhale, then he gingerly laid the wound against his mid-section.
“Are you okay?” she wanted to know.
Staring skyward, he sucked in then blew out a few harsh breaths at last ending with a tersely spoken, “I’m fine.”
Version Two: fatal flaws, hopefully, corrected.
“If you hold these in place, I’ll attach them.” Situating a board under the nearest window, he motioned her to steady one end while he secured the other with an appropriately bent knee.
She hurried over. “Okay.”
“Keep it steady.” He positioned a large nail midway between the top and bottom edges of the board, hefted the hammer, then swung up and back ready to land the first strike.
A glint from under the sill caught her eye. Something told her she’d regret it if she didn’t find out what was there. “No! Wait!”
She lunged forward letting her side of the board swing free. The hammer veered up then nearly flew out of his hand as Brad struggled to bring it down in a harmless arc. The handle shifted from his grip to land a sharp, sideways blow. Struck at an odd angle, the nail bent in half before it imbedded, crossways, into the wood. With his thumb pinned firmly underneath.
Jenny scrambled around the dangling board to kneel in front of him. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” Her hand shot out to rest on his arm.
Hammer dropped to the ground, he yanked for what seemed forever to pry himself loose. “Damn.” On a shaky exhale, he gingerly held the wound against his mid-section.
“Are you okay?”
Staring skyward, he sucked in then blew out a few harsh breaths. “I’m fine.”
My days to blog here are the 11th and 23rd.
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Much, much better! Glad to know all that editing is paying off!
Jannine, One can only hope! Thanks for doing your part.
Wonderful advice and great rewrite. I'd publish it. I'm looking forward to reading the entire finished book.
Margo, it's always hard to see our own mistakes, isn't it? My current problem--and I state it that way because as soon as I conquer one thing, another bad habit pops up--is using the same word or phrase close together...on the same page...in the same paragraph...heck, in the same sentence. And I don't see it. I know I do it, but my eyes don't catch it. Reading it outloud does. Loved your revised version.
Barbara, Send me a contract! (Just kidding.) Wish I could say all the advice was mine alone. It's all stuff I learned along the way.
Oh, Vonnie, I do that too. Sometimes don't pick it up until galleys! I also have another bad habit. Each of my wips seems to have its own word or phrase that pops up ALL the time. Gotta break myself of doing that!
I'm chiming in late, but great tips, great post. As an 'also editor,' I do the same things, see flaws in others' writing and totally overlook them in my own. It always helps to have a fresh pair of eyes, to read aloud, and a trick I've learned, to read backwards. If you read from last page to first, you're not as caught up in the story and you see what's really there instead of what you 'meant' to be there. :-)
Margo, great advice. So easy to see flaws in someone else's work than in our own. Now that you have editing experience under your belt, that book of yours will definitely go somewhere. Best wishes.
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