Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cleaning up our Manuscripts: those instinctual literary pokes

Sometimes I'll write something, such as I did in Tender Graces, or as I'll do in Secret Graces, and it will "bug" me. I'll read back over it and as I'm reading it, something pokes at me. At times, I try to ignore this poke, especially if it's gentle or not quite insistent. I'll wait and read back over it another time, and there's that little poke again. That's when I tell myself, "Okay, stop trying to ignore it, you have to change/take out/fix this part."

Those "pokes" whether gentle or not so gentle are your literary instincts telling you that something isn't quite right.

For example, yesterday I was reading a paragraph in Secret Graces and had that “poke” feeling. That thing in the back of my head calling for my attention. And I knew exactly what it was. I had too much description. Virginia Kate is talking about the heat and humidity of South Louisiana while underneath an oak tree waiting for Jade. I liked every one of the words/sentences/phrases I used in that paragraph, had written them with love, but, it was simply too much. I was essentially saying the same thing more than once, even more than twice. Delete delete delete. Poke.

Even reading over yesterday’s excerpts from SG, I am eyeing two things that are right on the edge of slipping out of Virginia Kate’s “Voice.” Would she say it exactly like that? Something is poking me so I'll need to address it so that I say the same thing, or VK does, but where I am danged sure it’s all Virginia Kate’s voice. I did read in the comments where someone said they could hear VK’s accent, and that makes me grin from ear to clich├ęd ear. Yay! That’s what you want. You want your readers to read your work and immediately picture, see, hear, imagine, your character. You don't want them to stop at a point and think, "Would that character say that/do that?" Voice, to me, is one of the most important things to get exactly Right. Really really really really Right. I tap into that character, get in their head and in their skin, and I don't want to come out. Imagine watching a movie where the character every now and then speaks in another voice, or acts like another character, or suddenly turns to you in the audience and speaks directly to you (unless this is how the movie is structured On Purpose), and you are sitting in the audience aware of yourself sitting in the audience watching something happen on the screen that is acted by actors, you have been bumped out of the world the movie once had you in. Poke.

Sometimes dialogue will poke me. Oops, I’m saying too much, or it's not natural. So, delete delete delete. I like short snappy dialogue. The only time my dialogue may go “longer” (and I don’t like monologues) is when a particular character is a blabbermouth, and even in those instances, I play with the way I do it so the dialogue doesn’t go on and on but only suggests the blabbermouth. Poke.

Pay attention, listen, to those little whispers, or pokes, or even slaps upside your head. Listen to your instincts. Yes, sometimes we want to leave in our lovely words, or we think what we've written is really cool, or we want to make sure our reader “gets it,” but those pokes are there to let you know that what you are doing at that place in your manuscript needs attention. Besides, if you NOTICE it, won't your readers NOTICE it, too? And NOTICE isn't always a good thing. There are always more lovely/cool words. You don’t want to sacrifice voice or good strong narrative/dialogue to ram your point across. You don’t have to over-explain things to your readers—they’re smart, they’ll get it. You don't have to 'show off' what you know because in doing that you call attention to yourself and not your characters and their story. You don't want to insert yourself or your own ideas/ideals onto your character.

Believe me, sometimes when I’m poked, I’m annoyed. I like what I’ve written and don’t want to change it; however, I’ve learned to listen to my instincts, my pokes. These things come from practicing your craft, from reading, from being aware, from opening yourself up to your instincts, from knowing that it is easy to hit that delete button—easier than you ever realized, because by hitting that delete button, your remaining words take on a greater impact.
and the Poppin' Fresh Pilsbury Dough Boy!


Deb Shucka said...

Boy can I relate to this! Those pokes happen not just in writing. For me it's about getting to the deepest truth of a thing. Thanks for the reminder.

Patience-please said...

You are so helpful! Thank you. Someday I'll tell you about it!

Analisa said...

Great post.

Poke that is a perfect way to put it. I feel those pokes too.

Only thing is now I have a hankering for cookies:)

Analisa said...

Okay and just a side note, without looking at it again two things in the excepts stayed with me. When VK said she was not like her women kin and she said he had touched too much already and when she said she felt all....was it froggy fried??? inside. Liked those.

Lazy Writer said...

Great advice. I've had those pokes, and you really do want to ignore them. I have. I'm going to pay more attention to them now.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I laugh every single time I pull up your blog and see your feet up in my face. LOL.

And about those pokes...they ARE annoying. Best just to deal with 'em and get it over with. *grin*

Sheila Deeth said...

Trust you to make deleting sound fun! It's depressing though, to set a goal to write N words then start by deleting 2N.

Sharla said...

I agree! Voice is everything and when one of them decides to cop an attitude, you have to POKE them back.

Sandra Leigh said...

Speaking of feet -- I love your toe ring. Why didn't I wear mine this summer? Too late now, I guess. Autumn is knocking on my door.

It was I who commented on hearing VK's accent. I'm glad it made you happy, Kat, but it was the unvarnished truth. VK's voice is all her own.

A Cuban In London said...

It's funny that I had to do a double take to assure myself you were not writing about Facebook :-).

Yes, those pokes, huh? I feel them everytime because I blog in a foreign language, which doesn't mean I don't feel them, too, when I write in Spanish. It's good to have them, but it's a nag when poking does not come with suggestions attached :-).

Greetings from London.