Transforming Awkward Thoughts into Useable Text

The writing powers that be are laughing at my humorous attempts at editing.  If you could see the notes in my manuscript you’d understand.  On each page there are notes pointing out sections of telling not showing, clunky dialogue, adverbs, and name your personal writing horror.  The process of identifying and correcting substandard work is tedious and painstaking, one that literary masochists like myself have come to enjoy only because we know that the writing that comes out of it is better than whatever we started with.

During the editing process this week a whole family of awkward thoughts sprang to my attention.  Most result from writing the story too fast without much thought for how the reader will ‘see’ it.  This is one of my writing downfalls and one that I hope with time and more experience will gradually fade away.  This example is copied word for word from my manuscript:

He went and stood beside Bremin and tried to look the part of an experienced traveler and not some love-sick fool that he was sure Bremin was describing him as.

Yikes. My first knee jerk reaction would be to cross the ugly mess out and decide if the thought even needed to be there.  However, if I did that with every strange and ungainly sentence then the length of my book would be cut in half.  No, we must make the thought work.  The most important question that must be kept in mind throughout the process is, “What am I trying to say?”

Let’s start with some clarifying and get rid of the redundant Bremin.

Overhearing his name in conversation, Elan went and stood beside Bremin and tried to look the part of an experienced traveler and not the love-sick fool that the man was describing him as.

Hmm, still not good enough.  The verbs are passive and dead, we can fix that.

Overhearing his name in conversation, Elan walked over to Bremin while making his best attempt to look like an experienced traveler and not the love-sick fool that the man described him as.

The sentence is very unwieldy, perhaps we could break the two thoughts apart.

Overhearing his name in conversation, Elan walked over to Bremin.  He made his best attempt to look like an experienced traveler and not the love-sick fool that the man described him as.

The second sentence still sucks.  Let’s try a different angle and perhaps add something else to the scene.

Overhearing his name in conversation, Elan walked over to Bremin.  Judging by the look of pity he got from the innkeeper, his companion must have told why he had come along.  Refusing to satisfy either by acting like a love-sick fool, Elan did his best to imitate Bremin’s relaxed posture as he leaned on the bar.

It seems I have a tendency to start sentences with gerunds.  What would it look like if I didn’t?

Elan walked over to Bremin when he overheard his name used in the man’s conversation.  His companion must have told why he had come along,  judging by the look of pity from the innkeeper.  He did his best to imitate Bremin’s relaxed posture as he leaned on the bar, refusing to satisfy either by acting like a love-sick fool.

Now we’re getting somewhere!  Not perfect but better, I can live with it.  It also changes the ending word from ‘as’ to ‘fool’ which feels stronger.  One could argue that it now feels like ‘he’ and ‘his’ are overused and I would agree.  I would have to play around with different arrangements of the last two examples to find a good balance.

Now to tackle the other 562 bits of awkward text, wish me luck!

Happy Writing!

 

Advertisements

About Jodi

I'm an aspiring novelist working in fantasy and suspense, for now. I also have two pretty awesome blogs! https://myliteraryquest.wordpress.com and http://jodilmilnerauthor.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Art of Writing, Editing and Revision, Language usage, Writer's Voice, Writing Exercise and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Transforming Awkward Thoughts into Useable Text

  1. Michael Knudsen says:

    Good exercise. The fact that you can do this yourself and don’t need to have someone else do it for you should give you all the confidence you need to improve your manuscript and get it ready for submission.

    • tsuchigari says:

      @michaelknudsen – Nothing could replace the discerning eye of a professional editor, but until then I’m stuck with using the tools and brains I have.

  2. cassim says:

    this has been an impressive exercise. i am your fan.

  3. Heather says:

    Oh how I like that: Make the thought work.

    No one expects a glob of clay to be attractive on its own–it takes a lot of shaping and re-shaping. I also think that rewriting is somewhat like plunging into deeper waters; diving to that level where more captivating thoughts are lurking than in the shallows; where the silence is more profound, and stillness taps into fresh springs–that’s the place we need to learn to swim in.

    Thanks for this. In my novice adventure of novel writing, I am writing and re-reading and re-writing in snowballing cycles–but at least it has me in motion. I can’t wait to get to the note-scribbling on a completed manuscript part!

    • tsuchigari says:

      @heather – My MS was far from ready when I printed it, I needed an extra kick in the pants to get moving forward again. Now with it in my hands it seems far more real. I have to work from beginning to end or I am forever stuck reworking the same bits over and over and not getting a good feel of the big picture.

  4. WOW! Between your and Nancy’s post this morning, I’m getting a great education! I must say that your sentence improved immensely from the first to the last, the last having a great deal nore descriptive infor. The first one actually was OK, except for ending on “as,” which stuck out like a sore thumb! First off, i would have just cut it off right there, so it would read:

    “He went and stood beside Bremin and tried to look the part of an experienced traveler and not some love-sick fool that he was sure Bremin was describing.”

    Then I would have cut a bit more:

    “He went to Bremin, trying to look the part of an experienced traveler – not some love-sick fool that he was sure Bremin had described.”

    But after all that, I much prefer the way you ended up! Except for, as you said, the confusing and ambiguous “he’s” and “him’s.” And, I still don’t know exactly who is leaning at the bar, although that might have been answered earlier in the paragraph and before this sentence comes into play.

    This post is extremely helpful – I’m bookmarking this one. Thank, Jodi!

    • tsuchigari says:

      @paula – always glad to help! That last “as” drove me nuts as well, part of the reason that the phrase screamed to be changed. It’s still not 100% where I would like it but then again, it might never be!

  5. nrhatch says:

    Nice editing, Jo!

    I am so glad that I live in the age of computers. Where I can tussle and tame my words into the format I desire, without having to retype whole pages to do so.

    Thanks!

    • tsuchigari says:

      @nrhatch – Amen to that! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to have each thought phrased correctly before typing it. I would be in BIG trouble!

  6. Great exercise. Thanks for sharing.

  7. oldancestor says:

    I worry about getting lost when I edit a tricky passage, changing this and changing that until I am hopelessly buried. It’s happened before. Then I usually lose the whole thing and start over.

    Not knowing what comes before or after you sequence, how about:

    The innkeeper shot Elan a look of pity from across the room. Elan glared back, but at Bremin, who had no doubt just described him as a love-sick fool. Sauntering to his companion’s side, Elan leaned across the bar and and slapped the worm-eaten wood surface with his hand.

    “Give me the house special.”

    Ignoring the stinging flesh of his palm and the curious gaze of the two men, Elan took a swig of the dishwater ale, determined to accept no such pity from them.

    ****

    Ok, maybe it reads like a western now. After your novel comes out and becomes a bestseller, I’ll do a thinly veiled remake set not in a fantasy realm but in 1870s Arizona.

    Heck, Star Wars is a remake of a Japanese samurai movie.

    • tsuchigari says:

      @oldancestor – Leave it to you to show me up, you turned my largely ‘telling’ phrase into something active and vibrant – way to go! Out of curiosity, do you do any freelance editing…?

      Goes to show that there really are dozens of ways to approach the same thought.

      • oldancestor says:

        I don’t know if I “showed you up,” so much as put a different spin on it. By your own admission, it was one of the passages that frustrated you. I would post some of mine for you to fix, but I long ago deleted them all in a childish rage.

        I don’t know if you were joking about editing, but, as you know and are probably sick of me mentioning, I am an editor. If you ever seriously want me to put my two cents in, I’d be glad to. Visit me at the contact page on my blog.

        If you were joking, then pretend I knew that.

        😉

        • tsuchigari says:

          When the time comes it wouldn’t hurt to have a handful of names I can turn to for services, etc. Don’t get to excited yet, it might take me a while to get there!

  8. Terrific piece on editing. The step-by-step process with examples is a concrete guide for all writers who have to battle with rewriting.

Comments are closed.