Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Secrets of Kid Lit: The Little Editors That Live in My Head

I may have mentioned before that I made a LOT of mistakes while writing my first book.  Lots.  I heard about all of those snafus from tons and tons of people.  Great people.  Don't get me wrong.  They were all making really fantastic points about my writing and I'd never have picked up an agent without their sage advice.  In fact, I've since adopted a lot of their tips and, as I write, I can hear them chittering and chattering in my brain.  This is what they're usually badgering me about:

1.  Adverbs

Let me tell you something...I loved adverbs in my first book.  Man, everybody was quickly doing this or cautiously doing that.  Everywhere you looked...adverbs, adverbs, adverbs.  When I'm drafting new books now, I double-dog dare you to find an adverb.  I'm meticulous in avoiding them.  The trick is to take those adverbs, ditch them, and then rev up your verbs.  Ran Quickly < Galloped.  Walked Boldly < Strutted.  Thesaurus.  Thesaurus. Thesaurus.

2.  Character Salad

I know that while you're writing, you're thinking that by naming the people around your main character you're creating depth and richness.  You're weaving a world that feels real and inhabited and that breathes with life.  Trouble is, for most readers, every time you name somebody, you're asking them to care about that character.  So, if you go out of your way to say "Joey Noshorts walked by and smiled at me", you better believe that your reader is going to expend a little energy to invest in sweet, little Joey.  If he never comes back again, some of your readers are going to be ticked off.  Especially if you're naming people all over the place.  You. Are. Not. George. R. R. Martin.  This is not Game of Thrones.  Tell us the story and stick to the characters who are most relevant to telling that story.  Everyone else is just filler and you have to ask yourself if they deserve the words.

3.  Economy

I used to have this thing for H.P. Lovecraft and, particularly in college, I'd write these long, flowing, comma-filled sentences that I thought mimicked Mr. Cthulu up there.  I've let that go.  You have a story to tell and, especially in a first draft, you should be telling that story in as few words as possible.  I can hear you all now...but I checked on Google and my YA manuscript should be at least 70,000 words for an agent to even consider it.  Whatever.  You know that when you go back in to do revisions and hammer out a second draft that you're going to ADD words.  Come on.  Don't lie to me.  You know you will.  But that's not really the point.  The point is that your writing should be lean and mean like a professional athlete.  No bulk.  Nothing extra to slow things down.  Economy of words.

4.  ????

I'm always looking for more editorial voices to live in my head.  So, fill up my brain, people.  What does the editor living in your noggin' have to say about all of this?  What little tips and reminders do you find yourself coming back to over and over again as you write?

--Paul A.

1 comment:

  1. See, everyone can conquer their adverbial demons!!!

    I also like to ask myself, WHAT'S THE POINT? As in, how does this scene relate to my character's overall journey? How do they perceive this moment, based on their wants and wounds? Often, it's the perspective of a scene, in terms of emotional context, that needs to be tweaked to bring a story together. At least that's what the editor in my head is telling me these days.



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