Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cleaning up our manuscripts: Scenes I like to see . . . because I'm picky that way

First, before I go on, when I write something here about what an author or writer may have done in something I’m reading, it is not the book I am reading now—these are just examples from things I’ve read in the past at some point or things I may have previously done with my own work and then one day had a AHA moment. Just wanted to make that clear.

I know I’m picky. The pickier I get, the more things I notice when I read. Of course, it’s the more I notice in my own writing as well, and then I have to eradicate or tweak or fix. I’m not perfect, and as I’ve told all of you, pointing out the things I like to clean up in my manuscript sets me up for people to read my work and find the very things I mention—it’s going to happen, that’s just how it is!

I never understood, until I had my own book published, just how easy it is to miss an error in your manuscript. There are so many layers of work/editing. First, you write the thing and it’s 80,000 to 100,000 words or so—that’s a lot of words where things can sneak in and hide. Then, you edit it and edit it and rewrite and tweak and even though you think you are being careful, a perfectly good sentence can become imperfect if you aren’t careful in the re-writing of it. The manuscript then goes to the editor(s) at your publishers and they make notes; you go in and fix whatever they found and while there you find something else. The galley proof comes, and you tweak from there and maybe find a couple of other things to fix. Sometimes while fixing something you make a new error, especially when in a hurry to get it back for deadline. Not to mention how difficult it is to spot little errors in a manuscript everyone has read more than once, especially You, which means Me--before sending my manuscript to the publishers/editors, I have gone through it multiple upon multiples of times. How many? More than five, I'm thinking more than ten. I haven't counted, but I do it because I want it to be clean and as perfect as I can get it and still make my deadline. But, folks, it’s a wonder that a book avoids mistakes at all, and most do not, so we all need reader's understanding.

Today I want to talk about one example of how we imagine the scene as we read it. Look at the Mary Worth cartoon. Notice how the man is talking while he is sipping his drink. That’s a perfect example of what I sometimes read in novels. The author will write the scene something like this:

Jeannette sipped her coffee. “I’m furious at Tim!”

So, how is Jeannette sipping her coffee and talking at the same time?

Oh, come on now, you may be saying, we all know the author means she sips her coffee and then says the dialogue line. Yeah, I know that, but still; when I read that, my brain picks up an image of Jeannette with the cup of coffee to her lips and it’s dribbling and spilling all over because she’s gurgling out “I’m furious at Tim!” –she’s sipping and talking at the same time. It’s just a personal thang with me. I’d even feel better if it simply read:

Jeannette sipped her coffee, then said, “I’m furious at Tim!”

Yeah yeah, I’ve read oodles of books that are written the way the first scene is written, but, it still drives me nuts, just as reading the Mary Worth comic does—the guy is drinking his drink, so how can he do that and talk at the same time? Huhn. Just saying. It’s easy to fix it, easy to find the habit of looking at our scenes as if they are really happening. I like my characters to drink or eat without talking; I’m just funny that way.

How about you? Do scenes like this bother you? Or have you never noticed before (but will now because Kathryn ruined it for you and now you will notice those things all the time, dang it all! *laughing*)?
Hope you all had great NANO experiences, and if you did not make your goal of word count, so what? You wrote something, didn't you? You have something to work with and tweak. Maybe a new idea came to you. Maybe you found out something about yourself and your writing. Maybe you will file it away and come back to it later. Whether you wrote 1000 words or 30,000 words or the entire 50,000 words, you created something from nothing. Brava.


Deb Shucka said...

It's nice to see this reminder of the complexity of our work. And it's a good metaphor for life I think. Fix one thing, it bumps something else.

One thing that bugs me often in my reading is verb choice, especially verbs for eating for some reason. It may be a regional thing, but when someone refers to a character as chewing their food I think of cows. Weird?

Linda Leschak said...

I tend to pick up on little things like that too. In reading and in writing. My writing is from scene to scene. I picture the action and then try to capture it just as it happened in my head (assuming THAT'S right.) Sometimes I'll mime out hand movements or body language just to get them right. Of course it doesn't always happen on paper the way it plays out in my head, though. Then I'll reread and think... hey, how can Theo move toward the door BEFORE he extracts himself from the cushy bean bag chair that he sunk into earlier?

I didn't do the NANO thing but I so admire the brave souls who did!

Titus said...

I suspect I only notice the jarring ones, as I'm a bit of a racer when it comes to novels on the first read. And let's face it, who reads the bad ones a second time!

Teresa said...

I'm like you, Kat, those kinds of phrases tend to jump out at me now that I've spent so much time working on my own novel. I rarely pick up on those things on the first pass, though. Usually it's the 10th or 12th reading.

Sometimes I feel more like I'm studying my manuscript rather than reading it, and this habit has started to carry over into my pleasure reading. Although this habit does serve me well when I'm trying to learn a new technique another author pulls off flawlessly. Normally, I wouldn't catch it on the first read and now I do.

Wonderful topic!

Suldog said...

I do notice those things and they do drive me nuts. Of course, when I re-read my own stuff (usually, months or years later) I notice something so glaringly obvious that I cringe at having put it out for public consumption :-)

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I have noticed those before, although I do wonder how many I miss?

I have a real nit-picky thing about typos. After I pick up a second one in a book, I keep a running tally in my head... not intentionally, I just can't help it!

BTW-I don't recall picking out a single thing in TG that bothered me :)

Debbie said...

I do often notice little things like that. I also have my running list of personal pet peeves and I also look for those!
(Found nary a one in your little gem, btw.)

Terri Tiffany said...

A great editing thing to remember to do! So--how many of them do I have??

Barry said...

Yep, I hadn't noticed that before and now you've ruined it for me.

"But I forgive you", he said while drinking scalding coffee and puffing on his pipe.

Jessica said...

LOL No, I don't really notice it. You picky woman! Heeehee. It would probably drive you bonkers to read my stuff, because I'm a big fan of moving body parts. Like, Her eyes bounced around the room. *snickering*

I probably need to check myself though about the drinking and talking at the same time thingy. Since I never noticed, I don't know if I do it or not.

Marguerite said...

Yes, I'm a stickler for details and a perfectionist, too. And very selective and meticulous. (sounds better than picky) ha! But hey, I'm a Virgo and I stopped fighting it a long time ago. We make perfect editors!

Karen said...

The more I learn, the more I see like that. But if I'm really into a book, I don't mind. (I tamed the nano beast, but it bit back some.)

Patience-please said...

You're wonderful and I'm late!!! Thanks for the great advice and I do notice those things! hurried hugs - Patience

peenkfrik said...

Every job feels like this. Good to know we have something in common. But one thing's for sure, becoming a professional writer is not easy. I just write to express myself and that's just it for now.

Glynis said...

I will have to check my MS...back soon!
Interesting post.