A (Fantasy) Series of Unfortunate [Edits]
We’ve all been there, that moment. You know what I’m talking about. After months of critiques and revisions and more notes and more revisions, it all comes down to that last finished moment, when you look at your manuscript and think, “How amazing. After all that work, this is truly a soulless piece of tripe.”
You don’t know exactly when it happened. Maybe somewhere in between pulverizing all those ‘worthless’ adverbs and skinning your descriptions, or gutting your vernacular and burning off your speech tags… Your story lost its charm. So where did it go wrong?
Put Advice in Proper Context
When receiving advice, maybe consider the source. What genre does your critter or beta reader typically read or write? How might that genre style differ from what you are trying to achieve? Who are their favorite authors? More importantly, who are yours? Do they match up? None of these questions should lead to belittling your fellow authors or readers. I think this happens because people get way too defensive, when others just have different tastes and styles. It is up to you to find the gems who reflect yours. Just find your niche. And pitch a tent before pitching. Those close enough to your campfire will gather.
Don’t Dabble in Your Dialogue
Leave your dialogue alone for as long as possible. Maybe just write what you hear. You have those voices in your head for a reason, and they know what they’re talking about. How much do you enjoy someone correcting everything that comes out of your mouth? Every time? Annoying as hell. Don’t do it.
I once had a critter who took a pen to my dialogue and made each and every one complete, proper sentences. His heart was in the right place, but who the heck talks like that? Maybe if I ever meet him face to face I might be pleasantly surprised, but I sincerely doubt even he speaks complete sentences for every occasion. I don’t. If I stub my toe, I will say, “Owweee, Owweee,” not, “I have stubbed my toe and it hurts.”
Recently, a quote from Stephen King has been circulating around the i-verse. “Any word you have to hunt for in the thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” Well, in my world, there are always exceptions. But I apply King’s advice to dialogue. Unless a character is a real brainiac, I’m putting my money on everyday average.
Another thing to consider is, again, the source. What does King write? I love his gritty horror stories and dark fantasies. But I’m not going to write like him, especially when it comes to descriptions. I couldn’t. For one, I don’t have his huge, engorged vocabulary. My brain is like a sieve. Short of pounding a cork in each ear, I can’t keep it all in. And for another, his is a different style of writing. Yet, I have learned some amazing things about writing from his book “On writing,” besides how to stash bottles of mouthwash in places no one will ever look.
What I mean by this is try not to over-explain. Edit for clarity. If one adjective works, use that one. If you need an adverb–go forward with my blessing. If following a rule like “avoid all adverbs” is making your sentence three times as long and twice as confusing, grab the adverb!
Again, dialogue is a different beast. Consider inner dialogue we read as regular narration in deep point of view. This will contain the character’s personality, her expressive catchphrases, her rambling reverie, and in some instances, her foul language. For example, my mom used to say the word “surely” a lot.
Like. All. The. Time.
Drove me nuts. Now, I wish I could hear her say it every day. If I were to ever write a book about her life, from her point of view, you better believe I would have “surely” mixed in with her descriptions. All the time.
Other exceptions for keeping it short and sweet, are writing fantasy and writing science fiction. World building trumps practically every rule. I mean, seriously, it is dang hard to make world descriptions interesting and clever, to open a scene on a new planet where everything is completely different, to sneak what you see into dialogue without it sounding forced. Honestly. My advice? Do it wherever you can. In every position. Readers expect it, as long as it is not obvious back filler hidden as dialogue.
Choose Your Weap–uhm…Rules
You will not be universally loved. So avoid trying to please everyone. Trying to swim in the big, Olympic pool will water down your style.
I can only tell you what I think from my own experience. I live in a limited world that is influenced only by what I have experienced and witnessed in one form or another. Your life is different. Your writing will be different. I know that I will never be as amazing at writing horror stories and modern fantasies as Stephen King. The man is a success because he does what he knows well. He is thorough. Years of experience and honesty have made him wise.
Find what appeals to you. See what makes it work. What sentences grip you? Why? How did they work in the context of your scene or paragraph? Do NOT delete those. Hold on to those miracles like Joan of Arc to the cross. Most might hate it. Someone’s going to get it, and weep.
Good Luck and much love,
Comment for a chance to win a $10 email gift card to Amazon or B&N. Have you ever over-edited anything, and what did you learn from the experience?
The Teller of Destiny™ Series, Book Two: Princes and Fools
Two mortals hang in the balance. One covets the crown. The other left his family behind after a tragedy for which he is to blame. Both are irresistibly drawn to the Pikestan girl, Raphere, whose fierce heart imprisons them as they lay claim to her. Whether incited by love or power, the princes may find their reward at the sharp end of a sword.
Ever since spilling her blood before the Teller of Destiny, Raphere has spent her life trying to prove she is not like her mother, a dark sorceress. And though she yearns to be, she is not a white wanderer either. She is the Jivasivar, the first grey soul born into the land since sin and the Changing. Some call her savior; others, assassin. One thing is clear: everyone has a plan for Raphere. Few seem to care about what is best for her–only what she might gain or cost them.
To the visitors in the Pikestan, she is a target for their cruelty. To the voices of the weald, she is a precious angel and a last chance at life. To the Dark Lord Verisa, she is a spoiled girl and an unwanted burden. To the mercenary Rant Pae, she is a comely maiden and a promised bounty. To the Highland witch Rumara, she is a puzzle to decipher from afar. To the Teller of Destiny, which revealed the grey of Raphere’s soul, she is the Great All’s long awaited Sword and Shield. Amidst such judgment, can a young woman with young girl’s dreams choose her own path correctly?
Searching for her purpose Raphere trusts in the white wanderer Tranquia and hopes to attain the Jivan Tome–the Divine Poem which promised Raphere’s emergence, centuries ago. She must discern friend from foe as all strive to manipulate her for their own designs. Does she have the conviction to be the Jivasivar or is she merely a pawn in a fight for the survival of both ancients and kings? With the Jivan Tome out of reach, and her destiny as clouded as her grey blood, will she bend to the manipulations of others and take a path that leads to the destruction of all?
Readers age 15+
The Teller of Destiny Series: Read the books. Play trivia. Unlock extras. At TellerOfDestiny.com
A. H. De Carrasco embarked upon the writer’s journey at a young age, writing illustrated fan fiction for her grade school classmates’ favorite shows. With the ebb of fame’s euphoria, she became a hoarder of her writing. Several decades later, she is publishing her collection of fantasy novels for teenagers and adults. Lately, she writes beside a waterfall as her husband tests his goggles and flippers. Her cats look on in displeasure from the screen door, but purr happily when she writes at her desk.
A. H. De Carrasco also writes sci-fi and paranormal short stories and novels under the name Kara Ashley Dey.
To keep in touch:
From Continue: http://www.amazon.com/Continue-Teller-Destiny-Series-ebook/dp/B00B66PWFK
Princes and Fools: Coming Soon! Check for the announcement in my comments this week!
32 thoughts on “A (Fantasy) Series of Unfortunate [Edits] – Guest Blog by A. H. De Carrasco”
Great advice and your story sounds wonderful. Thanks for the post!
Thanks so much, CJ! 🙂
I love my thesaurus, not the least because for some reason, even if I *know* the right word, I can’t bring it to mind always. Fortunately, I’m not one to slavishly follow advice :-).
Good for you, Margaret! Me too! I have an old, beat up green Roget’s Thesaurus that’s missing its front and back covers, is tea-stained brown, and almost forty years old. But I LOVE it! I found it in the free bookstore (which means a big cardboard box containing trade rejects) at Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe. I cherish it. Has old, elegant words, perfect for writing fantasy. I also like to use the Emotional Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman and different dictionary apps for iPad.
Thanks for stopping by!
I particularly like the advice of “choose your won … rules. In a writers group with one woman who’s working on her MFA. Her prose used to be free-flowing and original. Now it’s dried out and stilted, because instead of her original voice, she has her teacher’s techniques. I only hope she recovers that original voice. It was wonderful.
Oh Betsy, this just breaks my heart. I sincerely hope she does find her voice again. And with good doses of self-confidence and self-trust, too.
so true. i think one of the most important things is to have criquers and beta readers you trust, and to know when to ignore them. it’s easy to dull down your prose by overworking it.
Far too easy, isn’t it? By third or fourth read-through, that clever phrase seems to need revising, and suddenly it becomes wooden. Personally, I am the Kelly Bundy of creating pretty phrases with one word lamentably misused. My subconscious has a cruel sense of humor. I only see it when I reread. Often I look through every sentence, unsure. Young writers will do well to develop strong backbones, courage, and conviction to know when the beauty is there and leave it as is. Thanks for stopping by!
Great post! And very timely, for me, as I’m in the middle of edits trying to decide if my voice is being edited right out. My editor not only abhors sentence fragments, she wants a verb in each clause of the sentence! I like throwing in fragments, for effect. I think I tend to edit out some of my color. I feel like the editor knows what they are doing, and I’m paying them to do it, so why would I not take their advice. But sometimes it’s important to stand your ground. Now all I have to do is decide when it is important and when I should listen to my own inner voice. *sigh* Thanks for writing this post. I’m sharing it with both of my writing groups!
Hi M. J.!!
Maybe think of your editor like Piccard’s Number One. He considers Riker’s point of view, but doesn’t always take his advice. Riker is invaluable to the Captain because he is willing to suggest alternatives, but Piccard makes the final decision. 🙂
I try to remember which phrases gripped me as they came to me. Those are keepers. Thanks so much for stopping by!
As someone who can’t stop editing, this was helpful. Walking away can be a glorious relief.
Amen to that, sister!
I agree with your comments about dialogue. Every character should have a unique voice, and you can’t achieve that by editing it to death. The only thing I touch when editing a fellow author’s dialogue is the tags. When I see an abundance, I highlight them. If it’s an easy fix (she said and walked out the door – she walked out the door) I’ll make the change. The goal in editing should be mopping around the edges not laying a new floor!
Hi Jannine. I love that visual!
Great post, and one from which we all can take something. I have a ms that has been entered into many contests. At least the first 50 pages have been seen by countless people. I took all their advice to heart, changed it up, rewrote it time and again, and guess what? The agent I sent it to said the life had been sucked out of it and to begin again! Now, I realize that I should have listened to myself instead.
Ugh! That makes my heart sink. I am sorry that happened to you. Even sweet, helpful witches can spoil the pot, if there are too many of them.
I value my editor because she ‘gets’ me. Her advice always clicks. I think when we find somebody like that, we should hold on tight! I’ve found that I only need one or two (unless I go with a line editor, as well.)
Very good advice, and this is from an editor. 🙂 You can definitely edit out the magic and your voice. It’s much better to make your story sound natural and engaging than to follow rules. I also adore Stephen King. He’s phenomenal. But I disagree with him a bit on using a Thesaurus. Sometimes you can’t quite think of the exact word you’re wanting. Also, if I find I’m repeating words, I will use a Thesaurus to find a replacement. Great job, A. H.!
Hi Alicia! I totally agree. I say do a search for looked, walked, saw, thought…you’ll grab a Thesaurus! Lol.
“Someone’s going to get it and weep.” Describes my stories. Good article. Thank you. 🙂
🙂 Hi Louise! Thanks for dropping in.
Such great advice. Sometimes we just need to quit editing. It’s so easy to stomp the life out of our work. I may need to pound corks in my ears! Will let you know if it helps. 😉 Thanks for posting this.
Hi Carol. Having my personal editor has helped me curb my self-editing because I can hand it to her, then make revisions depending on her notes. It sort of sets boundaries. Otherwise I’m like that Labrador incessantly running after the ball. Can’t stop.
Thanks for dropping by! 🙂
Thank you for the advice & you had me laughing outloud at parts esp. the complete sentence dialogue – it’s too scripted that way 🙂
I’ve edited myself into corners before. I had a friend keep asking me questions about a story I wrote, so I kept adding in answers…problem was it was tacked onto the beginning and the action got pushed further away. After great advice from a freelance editor, I hacked all that backstory into pieces and wove it into the story and started back with the action which is what I had before I went on an editing frenzy.
Thank you for sharing.
Give that freelancer a great big hug, Andrea !! 🙂
I’m really good about not doing that, but mostly because I saw friends who did. First, I don’t try to fix everything. I’ll fix the grammar, fix the misspellings, make sure there aren’t too many passive sentences. If it reads well and has a soul, I let it go. I know that goes contrary to the philosophy of “Edit until it’s perfect,” but honestly, even the best authors in the world will receive edits from their editors. Perfect does not exist and as long as your story has soul, editors can work with it.
Great advice, Mary. That last line especially needs to be a lister on every writers’ wall.
Lister = poster. Autocorrect + plus my fat fingers. Hah!
Thank-you for the great advice!! Points well-taken A.H. I am editing right now and am hopeful I use my thesaurus…especially for repeat words…ugh…Love the excerpt!! Thank-you Babette.
Thank you so much Jennifer. good luck with edits!!! 🙂
This is a great blog, Babette. Some sound advice, there. I’m still giggling over the “owweee” comment.
While I originally tried to obey the ‘scuttle all adjectives and adverbs’ rule, I soon figured out it didn’t always work. Live and learn.
Thanks for an informative post.
Hi Mairia, Thanks for stopping by. Live and learn, indeed!
Jannine Gallant is the winner of the Gift card drawing! Yay! I will be contacting you today! Thank you every one for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate that so much!!