Posted in better writing, editing, good writing, how to be more descriptive, how to write, learning to write, rewrite, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice, writing better

The Dreaded “It”

it-exampleEver read a piece of writing that drove you nuts, because it kept using the word it? Now sometimes it can come in handy. Really it can, but a lot of times it can be overused to the point of being annoying. And sometimes it just leaves the reader wondering exactly what you meant by “it”. It’s one of those words you avoid using if at all possible.

A technique I use to spot all the “its” and determine if each one should stay or go the way of all bad writing is to ask myself some simple questions…

  • Do I really need this “it” here?
  • Can I use another word to describe the “it” better?
  • And last but certainly not least, can the reader understand what “it” truly means?

After asking these questions, I usually find myself changing the “it” to another word or phrase, and yep it the text definitely reads better, and it the message is that much clearer.

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Posted in A Writer's Life, editing, finding the right words, finishing stories, first draft, how to write, learning about writing, novel, novel writing, The Writer's Toolbox, writing, writing advice

How Many Drafts Does it Take to Finish a Novel?

Now that’s a good question. I hear the “it takes three drafts” a lot, but really it depends on the writer and the writer’s experience. Though the more experience you have in writing, the less mistakes you tend to make the first time around and typically add more “correct” information in the first couple of rounds (because you have a stronger idea of what makes a good story).

Even still, there are many well-published authors who do a lot more than three drafts (check out Lisa Gail’s interview with authors as she asks How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?). It really boils down to writing style and an individual’s organizational mode. Every writer is different. Check out this interview with Earnest Hemingway…

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
— Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Gah! 39. Now that’s a lot! But he’s right, it’s about getting the words right even if it take 39 drafts or 390 drafts.

And then there are the super star writers who can do up a novel without much rewriting at all.

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence — no first draft.”— Dorothy Parker, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

And some people write drafts with certain issues they want to address in that particular draft.

Leslie Rose (from How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?) wrote:

Here are my drafts:
1 – vomit draft – let it fly baby
2- Story arc pass – main story subplots – overall structure
3- MC & supporting character arcs – including character development & embellishment
4- grammar/punctuation pass & bad habit pass (adverbs/tense/sentence variety/word choice)
7 – Hard copy read – make corrections
8 – Kindle read – make corrections
OUT TO BETAS
9 – Including Beta notes pass
10 – Holistic read – wearing my audience hat
11 – Corrections from Holistic read
QUERY TIME

Writing a novel doesn’t even really start until draft two and on (well, for most of us anyways). It’s the rewriting that shapes the story into what you actually want it to be. The first draft is just mental vomit.

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” — John Updike

In my case, I found I didn’t even know what I wanted to say until my third draft (my novel will take a total of five drafts to be completed by the way). I have whole chapters from draft one and two that will never see the light of day (thank god!).

“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.” — Helen Dunmore

And then there is the multiple rewrites that happen within a draft. You know, the tiny rewrites that happen over and over until you feel like you can bleed the words (though these rewrites and edits should happen in draft two and beyond).

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl

Basically it’s up to you how many drafts you write (and don’t let anyone tell you different!). What matters is that the story progresses in a way that you want and gets the point across.

Here are some other posts on how many drafts it takes…

Karen Woodward’s How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Joanna Penn’s Writing a Book: What Happens After the First Draft?

And check out this article on How Many Rewrites is too Much?

Sooooooo, how many drafts does it take (or will take) you to finish a novel?

 

Posted in editing, good writing, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing advice

Writing Filters to Use: The Finer Details Filters

Last week, I talked about writing filers and how helpful they can be to lessen the blow of all that work needing to be done on the freshly finished first draft. After using the Big Picture Filters, now it’s time to polish it up with the Finer Details. There are also ten major topic areas to look at while sprucing up story to completion, they include: spelling/grammar/punctuation, emotion, style, fact checking, word choices, sentence construction, rhythm, time, clarity, and tone.

Note: These details should be left to later drafts. Messing around with these topics before getting the basic structure of the story done is a quick way to the biggest headache of your life, and it will make a lot of extra unnecessary work.

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Posted in better writing, editing, good writing, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing, writing advice

Writing Filters to Use: The Bigger Picture Part 3

The first and second part of Writing Filters to Use talked about filtering through plot, character, conflict, dialogue, scenes, and point of view. Now let’s go more into structure of a story and look at pace, setting, continuity, and balance.

Pace

Questions to ask…

  • Did the plot/subplots move fast enough to keep your attention?
  • Did it skip around too much to keep track of the characters and plot?
  • If nonfiction, can it be tightened?
  • Are there enough examples (non-fiction)? If so, where and how does the writer need to improve pacing?
  • Does pace vary?
  • Is the pace of each scene appropriate?
  • Does pace influence tone?
  • Does pace increase/decrease tension?
  • Are action and dialogue balanced? Characters should be somewhere doing something when they speak; actions alone will keep the reader at a distance- outside looking in. Pages of description is no better than empty space. Speech that neither defines character nor moves plot can be deleted. In general no more than four lines of dialogue should be written without a break: some action, even a gesture.

Setting

 Questions to ask…

  • Is setting conveyed sufficiently?
  • Is the setting appropriate for the story?
  • Would a different setting work better?
  • Is setting used to advance plot, to create tone, to increase tension?
  • Are readers given a clear sense of place and time for each scene?

Things that can be done to enhance Setting…

  • Verify details
  • Make sure setting details are appropriate to story and scene
  • Make sure setting doesn’t overwhelm action and plot
  • Include props that characters can handle and use

Continuity

Questions to ask…

  • When you finished reading, were there loose ends that were left unresolved?
  • Was there anything that needed further explanation?
  • Were there any inconsistencies?
  • Do the characters plod through the story? It is not necessary to record each step the character takes. Can some details be deleted allowing the reader to take an active role through the imagination and inference?

Balance

Questions to ask…

  • Is there too much going on in the story?
  • Is the author’s hand too visible? Does it stick out?

Things that can be done to enhance Balance

  • Ensure balance between elements; make sure no one element overwhelms
  • Balance character thoughts, dialogue, and actions with setting and description
  • Balance sections, scenes, chapters, and acts

I know it’s a lot to take in. Take a deep breath. Just remember to focus on a few areas at a time. Once you feel like you’ve nailed all the bigger details, don’t think you’re done yet. There’s more to do! Now it’s time to get to the smaller details. Check out the followup post Writing Filters to Use: Finer Detail Filters.

Posted in editing, good writing, great writing, how to write, The Writer's Toolbox, the writing process, writing, writing advice

Writing Filters to Use: The Bigger Picture Part 2

Here is the second part to Writing Filters to Use: The Bigger Picture. This part goes over dialogue, scenes, and point of view.

Dialogue

Questions to ask…

  • Did the words seem natural to the characters and fit their personality?
  • Was there too much or not enough dialogue? It’s okay to tell the reader some of the thoughts of the thoughts of the main character, but we should only know the thoughts of other characters through their words and actions, i.e. did the writer show us the story or did he tell it to us?
  • Whose story is it?
  • If dialect is used, is it used effectively and appropriately?
  • Were there enough/too many beats in the dialogue?
  • Was the dialogue used to move the plot forward or as a weal way of cramming back story?
  • Does dialogue advance the story?
  • Is dialogue appropriate to the scene?
  • Does dialogue increase conflict?

Things that can be done to enhance Dialogue…

  • Ensure that characters sound sufficiently different
  • Make sure it is dialogue and not conversation
  • Use genre-appropriate dialogue tags
  • Keep adverbs in dialogue tags to a minimum, unless genre allows them (use he said, she said’s )

Scenes

Things that can be done to enhance Scenes …

  • Make sure there are a sufficient number of scenes
  • Make sure individual scenes satisfy and that they are different in terms of action events, character combinations, dialogue patterns, and type of conflict
  • Give scenes variety in length, format, depth, and pattern
  • Use a variety of settings for scenes (or play against variety and stick to only a few settings)
  • Make sure scenes are in the best order to cause problems for the character and induce tension in the reader
  • Make sure the right scenes are dramatized and the right scenes are summarized

Point of View

Questions to ask…

  • Story view point (first, second, third limited, omniscient)
  • Is it the right POV for the story and for the scene; would another be better?
  • Is POV clear?
  • Is POV maintained within scenes?
  • Character view point
  • Who should be the viewpoint character in each scene?
  • Is the story in the right character’s POV? Would another character work better?
  • If the story is in multiple characters POV, should it be changed to just one character?
  • If the story is in one character’s POV, would the story work better in multiple characters POV?

Things that can be done to enhance POV

  • Make sure that viewpoint character doesn’t change within scenes (no head-hopping)
  • Make sure viewpoint character knows only what he could really know
  • Use a change in POV or viewpoint character to bring story and character closer to the reader or to hold the reader at a distance when necessary

The final and third part of this series goes more into structure of the story.