As an Old English Sheepdog, I love to herd. I’ll try and roundup turkeys, robins, squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines and skunks. You name it. The other day I tried to make the tractor cutting our hay go towards the road. That was after I successfully got the two riding lawnmowers cutting our grass onto the driveway. I have the best time maneuvering around to get other four-legged animals and machines to do my bidding. Come visit and I’ll show you.
While watching me herd the other day, James came upon several ideas he asked me to share with you. He told me that herding was similar to his editing. There are different things to consider when changing text in his novel, like my herding and deciding in a nanosecond whether to turn right or left or back up or go forward – even to stop and think. The following are several things James would like you to know the next time you pick up your pen to begin editing. (A treat here would have been nice – oh, yippee – a treat! The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Yes, I know that’s a cliché ….)
James has often found that when writing he’s said a word or phrase twice inside the same paragraph, or several times within a page. When getting an idea on paper, that’s acceptable, as James doesn’t want to play editor during the early phase of his writing. During editing, it’s time to look for these repetitions that will cause a reader to hesitate and lose track of the thought James is trying to make. (Okay, I’ll get a treat if next time I say “James is making.” You know, we could have edited that out – sure, I’ll stop with the editorial comments – a TREAT for using the word editorial and making James laugh – I love James – and score – another treat.)
James has found that he’ll sometimes create these repetitions when editing. For instance, when going through his novel, James wanted to edit out every time he began a sentence with the word “but.” In doing so, he often changed it “however,” resulting in far too many uses of the word. He then stopped to consider how he could rephrase the sentence so neither “but” nor “however” – or other words like “nonetheless” – were overly used.
Words that James uses too frequently are also actions his characters take. These include “smiling” – or grinning – and things like “leaning” – or slouching. Another way of saying someone is smiling is by mentioning that their eyes light up, or that dimples appear. If James lets himself, his imagination comes up with all kinds of wonderful ways to say something.
Show Don’t Tell
To simply say someone smiled is telling. As above, when James says someone’s eyes lit up, he’s showing them smiling. We all know that the edges of our mouths move in an upward direction – my entire top lip rises and shows my teeth (there’s that word, show) – and visualizing things like a dimple demonstrate how the smile presents itself.
In the novel James is currently editing, a character is not liked by others. When developing the character, James wrote several unkind actions and phrases the person had taken. Having those in mind, James then went about knowing these things, but never showing them in the novel other than telling that others didn’t respect him. James had forgotten to include the actions and negative phrases, which would show why he was not admired.
James says he needs to remember to include the ideas he uses when developing his stories. If not, only he knows about them and the reader is left to wonder “why.” It is more enjoyable for the reader to see something rather than to be told about it. James agrees that this is easier said than done, but it is more fun for both the reader and the writer when successfully accomplished.
The work-in-progress James is editing takes place on a college campus. Now, I’ve never been to college. (I’m barely fourteen years old in people years – two in dog years – James is – hay, James edited that out.) I have to rely on James for understanding that there are tons of people, students, faculty, administrators, alumni, trustees, families, etc. The current version of his story has far too many people in it. He’s well aware that he has to cut some – if not a lot. How will James go about doing that?
Well, he knows he can combine some of the people, even though he likes the characters he’s created. James says it’s hard doing away with someone he’s fashioned out of his imagination. In the interest of helping the reader keep track of the story and not worry about who does what, James is in the process of melding (Cool word I learned today, and a treat for using it.) some of his student characters into one another. In doing so, he’s making sure that there is consistency in his descriptions of the pooled characteristics. For instance, if one walks with a limp and the other struts, their joined person can only do one or the other throughout.
While James at first found it a struggle to reduce the number of characters in his novel, he’s found it quite fun to slim them down. Adding additional traits to one character from the one being cut, also makes for a more interesting personality. Thinking about it in that manner has allowed James to proceed with simplifying his work-in-progress for the reader while making the story livelier at the same time. This is a terrific lead in to the next topic.
Sufficient Background Information
Like James told me earlier, keeping notes on his characters allows him to see a full picture of what they are like, as well as things they read, admire, appreciate, dislike, their politics, and any number of personality traits. While working on his novel, James will continuously edit his characters’ descriptions. Leaving these images on a research sheet will cause the reader to question actions that might be taken in the novel.
While editing, James will use the pictures of the characters and settings within the body of the story itself. It’s one of the failings to which he admits when initially writing a story since he already visualizes the character within his own head. It’s the reader’s mind that needs to see the person or situations clearly, and this can be accomplished during the revision process.
There is also the possibility that as a writer, James might put in too much information and end up “telling” (see above) more than showing. During the review phase, James will both add and subtract information depending upon its relevance and manner of communication. Showing as precisely as possible will make the story move as James intends for his readers, whether that flow is swift, horrifying, mystifying, or simply nice.
I’m sure James will want me to write more on this topic at another time. Until then, what editing tips do you have that I might expand on in the future – and that might aid James in his writing? I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.
I always enjoy hearing from you, so please leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all.
Until next time,
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)
PS: You can check out my earlier post on editing: Words to Sidestep While Writing