Sunday, May 20, 2012

Having My Own Work Edited, Part 3 of 4

Now that I've covered the high-level changes I made to a story I recently sold, I'll go into some of the embarrassing line edits the editors suggested or made. I say "embarrassing" because while some edits were of the "personal taste" variety (like suggesting two short paragraphs should be combined), others are better labeled as "Tarl, you should know better than to submit prose this clumsy."

Here are two writing faults that appeared several times in the story I submitted. 

First, I use "that" too often. Several times sentences such as "She knew that genies normally didn't..." got edited to "She knew genies normally didn't..." and I agree with 100% of those changes. Sometimes I think I have a "that" key on my keyboard and just enough obsessive compulsive disorder to feel great stress if I don't press it at least once a paragraph. I catch most of them in my own rewrites, but not all. 

Solution: From now on I'll use the search function to find every "that" in the whole document, and delete or rewrite the ones that serve no purpose. (There's one: "ones THAT serve no purpose." You might say that particular "that" is necessary, but I could have written, "and delete or rewrite the pointless ones," which I think is stronger. Even when "that" serves a real need, it's rarely the strongest way to say what you're trying to say.)

Second, my readers are having more trouble than I'd expect understanding who says what line of dialogue, especially when three or more people might be speaking. (And I write a lot of group interaction scenes.) 

Solution: Change my strategy from "avoid dialogue markers unless absolutely necessary" to:

1) When two characters are conversing, use some kind of marker at least every fourth line.

2) When three or more people are conversing, use some kind of marker every time it is not painfully obvious who is speaking.

No matter how many people are engaged in the following example of a conversation, do you really need a marker for the second line of dialogue?

J.D., Elliot, and Turk stood by as Dr. Cox asked Carla, "Dear GOD will you please stop making that noise?"

"What noise?"

Since the second line is in direct response to the first, and the first addressed a specific person, readers can assume the second speaker is the one being addressed by the first. 

Now consider this next example, which represents the kind of error I make all the time.

J.D., Elliot, and Turk stood by as Carla ran her fingernails down a blackboard. Dr. Cox asked, "Dear GOD what is that horrible noise?"

"What noise?"

In my mind, Carla's speaking the second line, but it's at least theoretically possible someone else said it. Maybe everyone else is pretending not to hear it for some reason and Turk said it. Anyway, since Dr. Cox's question was asked to the group as a whole, readers can't assume Carla's responding.

Next time, I wrap up this little series of posts with more embarrassing line edits.

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