Cutting Words Without Value

I have to admit that self-restraint around food isn’t one of my strengths. I like food a little too much. I’m working on down-sizing my appetite… and then hopefully my wardrobe.

One of the things I use to say when younger was about “unwanted calories”. If you aren’t going to enjoy eating something (e.g. the flavourless crusts on a pizza) then its “unwanted calories”. Why consume calories when it’s surplus to need and not going to be enjoyable either? It’s smarter on so many levels just to bin it.

There are certain words that have no value, just like unwanted calories. They add nothing to the story and so should be deleted.

One of the tasks I’ve done recently is to review every use of the word ‘that’. It is most often a filler word whose presence can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence at all. I know I use it unconsciously. When I did my word frequency analysis I had a massive 735 ‘that’ uses.

that
A particularly bad example of THAT shame

My ‘that’ hunt eradicated it down to just 149 instances. A good hunt, indeed.

VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.


Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.

Jumping the Productivity Moat

Although revision on Vengeance Will Come has only just begun I’m reasonably happy with the progress so far.

Revision Work…

Here’s a summary of what I’m looking at:

  • I’m Cutting out superfluous words. Not just the occasional word in a sentence, but also entire sentences. For example, the following line of dialogue:

“Physical muscles are less important than mental strength and wisdom, neither of which is guaranteed by age.”

I originally wrote it as a subtle dig at a character that he was physically weak, to feed a sense of inadequacy. That reference is no longer required and its presence is now out-of-place. It adds no value and causes only distraction. The delete key fixed that.

  • Word choice. Sometimes I’m using the same word in quick succession and that is poor form. (Sidebar: A previous Writing Excuses podcast I listened to mentioned that there are some words you can only use once in a story).
  • Using contractions in dialogue. This, strangely doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I speak with them, for some reason I write long-form. My flow-of-consciousness dialogue tends to be formal and so feels scripted. It was something an earlier version alpha reader detected, and I was trying to fix this… obviously I missed a lot. I suspect the further into the story the less I detected.
  • being more descriptive about motion and emotion; trying to show in a more nuanced way, instead of telling the reader.
  • Evaluating the criticisms of my beta readers, and adjusting accordingly (more about that in another post).

…Meets Productivity Moat

But then my forward progress is halted, midway through chapter 2 (of 29). I’ve hit a piece of text that’s really slowing me down: a productivity moat that’s blocking my path.

I’m not happy with the paragraph of text and are indecisive about wording and positioning. Several times I have opened up the document and sat there looking at it, as though it were written in Swahili (which I can’t read). After an annoying ten minutes of staring, my enthusiasm begins to wane. Stupid moat. I’ve tried to skip it and move on, but it’s like I know it’s there like an enemy at my flank and it’s on my mind.

I have a new strategy. To be honest it’s not much different from my previous strategies, but often I’ve found writing is a mind game. So if my slightly modified strategy works – hooray. They say you need an edge over your enemy: not a whole new weapon, just an edge.

I’m going to:

  1. Highlight the paragraph, admit to myself that I currently lack the ability to solve it and I can’t allow it to slow me down.
  2. Write some extensive comments: what I think is wrong with it (why I am having difficulty) and any possible options I can see to fix it in the future. I’m going to try to be descriptive e.g. “Z might work but that would require Y (which I don’t have)”.
  3. I’m going to move on, having done everything I can currently.
  4. At a later date, either at the end or when the answer presents itself, I’ll go back and fix it.

The productivity moat may cause a change in strategy, but it won’t stop me.

Struggling to not-edit

There’s been a lot of times recently where I’ve been sick to death of editing Vengeance Will Come. I thought that it would never finish…

And now, I just want to edit The Rebel Queen. I don’t want to read it or only look for certain aspects (which I wrote about only yesterday). I just want to edit. I just want to write.

As I write, I’m starting to build up a collection of laminated notes that I’m going to stick to my writing desk. Some of this is all-writing information (like grammar rules) and also can be story-specific prompts (character voice).

The latest addition to my notes is from Robin Hobb (Writing Excuses, Season 11, bonus episode 1). It isn’t anything new, but it’s good to remember and she says it very well:

“So, when I sit down with my character and I begin typing and the character is speaking in first-person to me, things are unravelling and the world is being built entirely from that person’s point of view. … I’m experiencing it completely from that point of view.”

“If you’re writing from the first person if you are an assassin who walks into a room and there’s three people there what he notices is going to be very different from the child character who runs in the room and is totally fixed on finding the toy they left there earlier, and the three people standing around talking don’t matter at all.

In everything you do, you put on that character like you put on a coat. And you wear it, and everything is from that characters point of view and their value system. If you’re writing a villain, and you put on that coat, no matter how you feel about it personally, you’d better share all of her opinions and justifications, and everything she feels about it. If she is paranoid or outraged… from the time you put on her coat you have to be 100% on her side.”

 

 

Revising the Smart Way

This weekend I finally finished revising my novel Vengeance Will Come, book 1 of a series I’m calling Vortex of Darkness (for now). Vengeance is currently with my beta readers, who will simultaneously strengthen and wound me. (In lieu of your conservative applause I shall begin a new paragraph, thus marking the importance of the previous statement).

It took about a month and a half longer than I was expecting. I’d never revised a novel-length story before and so this was a new and challenging experience. Mustering up all my enthusiasm, baseless assumptions and bravado I attempted to edit everything in one-pass. I now identify that was mostly laziness speaking. (Somewhat understandably, I’ve been working on VWC for so long I’m ready to move on). In reality I probably did a fragmented two stage pass.

Trying to edit everything in one pass is just silly unless you’re superhuman. (I suspect this is true of even accomplished authors). The brain has limits and you can’t simultaneously check 15 different things at once. Attempting to do so resulted in me completely ignoring one thing, to hunt for another. It is better to do one thing well, one at a time, than do everything poorly. 

My editing efforts resulted in a 24% length cut which is pretty darn impressive. Especially when you factor in several thousand words of new text added. Hopefully the cut was a beneficial pruning of the story and not a ring-barking of quality.

vwc-final

I’ve given my beta readers two months to read and comment, so now I move onto revising my parallel-novel The Rebel Queen. Now that I’m experienced I think I can revise it in one pass. Just kidding.

In the interest of learning to do things smarter I’m changing my approach at revision.

Pass 1: Structure and plot

In this first pass I’m hoping to turn off my detailed scanners and be able to look at the story from a holistic approach. Asking myself:

  • Is the story progression logical? Are the chapters and scenes in the best order?
  • Does each scene move the plot forward or reveal something about the character?
  • Is the plot plausible? Is the plot cliche?
  • Are characters acting naturally, given the circumstances?
  • What ‘promises’ am I making to the reader? Am I fulfilling them?
  • Is the content engaging the reader?
  • Is it clear in each scene whose point-of-view it is from?

This already seems like possibly too many things to be looking out for in a single pass…

Time to jump in!

 

Happy Australia Day!

I do not wear rose-coloured glasses; I can see that Australia faces many challenges, current and future.

Still, it is one of the best countries in the world. To all who call Australia home, rejoice!

Writing

Today I’m busy editing, having just 5 days left of my goal of trying to finish the revision of Vengeance Will Come by the end of January.

As part of my research I came across this excellent image. The vastness of space blows my mind.

Orbitalaltitudes.jpg
Image made by Rranaknishu and published on Wikipedia

There is so much about the universe we still don’t understand; most of which I find fascinating (even if I can’t really understand it myself).