Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Difference A Year Can Make

I'm in editing mode at the moment so I'm a little introspective. I'm also a little wild-eyed because the story I'm working on is a year old. Remember when I said look at older works? I do practice what I preach.

So in the past 365 days I've learned how to show instead of tell. I'm still not perfect at this, but as I said, I've gotten better. I would like to think my stories are more tangible now that I try to breathe more life into the passages.

For example:

Original Sentence:

She smiled again, more from the warm feeling the alcohol gave her than because of his appearance—at least that’s what she told herself.

Edited Sentence:

She smiled again, more from the warmth flooding through her body, filled at the moment with alcohol, than his appearance—at least that’s what she told herself.

I'm not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this sentence, and though the change is subtle it has a better impact. I'm describing exactly how the alcohol is skewing her perspective. When I read the original I noted I'd used the word "feel" a dead ringer for when you are telling instead of showing. I should mention I went over this story at least three times last year. I never saw this sentence as a problem. Funny, even now I'm looking at it to see if I can re-word for clarity.

Here's another example.

Original Paragraphs (sentences really):

She got up and made her way to Janice’s office. Janice was shuffling some papers when Hazel entered.

Edited Paragraphs:

Hazel stepped out of her office to find the hub of the company in it's usual state of chaos. The room curved in a semi-circle and the view from the second floor always made her dizzy, not from the height, but of the constant movement below.

The people who made this company work didn't get a moments rest. Phones were always ringing, someone was usually running in or out, and the big boss could step out of her office at any moment to watch. The tension in her neck spread down to her shoulders. She closed her eyes a moment to calm down, but couldn't, not with the constant noise.

She gave up and turned into Janice's office. Her boss was shuffling some papers on her desk when Hazel entered.

Now these passages involve more than describing to the reader where she works. Since I'm fond of lists...

1. The obvious, I'm showing the reader where she works. Instead of an disembodied trek to the Janice's office.

2. It's a busy place and not what someone would call a peaceful place to work.

3. For some reason just standing there puts tension in the heroine's neck.

4. Word choice is an amazing thing. You can create a certain feeling with just the words you use to describe something. "constant movement below" vs. "busy"; "a moment's rest" vs. "full work schedule"; and the one I wanted to convey the most since the heroine is about to go into Janice's office "big boss" vs "the boss, nice boss, Janice."

Going through this book has helped me reevaluate my editing process. I've been looking for any spots in this ms to see when I've missed an opportunity to make it better.

So, the moral of this posts: Watch out for missed opportunities for description, character develop, awkward sentences and telling cues *the five sense: see, feel, hear, touch, smell*. The most important moral is to never stop learning how to write better. If this old dog can learn new tricks and have them stick, then there is hope for everyone. (Trust me, I'm a sssslllllooooowwwww learner.)


  1. Melissa,great personal challenge. Getting the words down on paper in the first place is difficult. Working on edits can be mind shredding. Glad to know someone else has that 'Am I ever going to get it right?' feeling. It helps me to share with someone who can see a different vision.
    Go for it. I look forward to the completed novel.

  2. Thank you, June!

    And, yes, it never ceases to amaze me how writing and editing seem to be on different universes.

    "Glad to know someone else has that 'Am I ever going to get it right?' feeling."

    Nope, not alone. Some things you will nail without angst or gnashing of teeth. Other parts of craft will always be a test of patience. But it's worth celebrating every battle you've won.

  3. Very good, Melissa. Reading over and editing is the key. It can also overtake your life! LOL! My problem is I can forever read over passages and think of newer, more interesting ways to word it. Finally comes to a place where I have to say, "Enough already!" Ha! But I am sure you know how that is too. All writers do. then your editor get ahold of it and gives you more stuff to think on. So much fun!

  4. It can indeed take over your life. I'm giving myself the deadline of Sunday. I'm adding the new scenes and fleshing and cutting as I go. What helps is knowing your characters, the theme of the story--if you know this then it gets easier to know what needs to be cut and what you need more of. 'Cause truly after a while the words just run together.

    Lol. I can't even call it fun when I'm being sarcastic.