Sunday 22 September 2013

Do readers give a **** about adverbs?

It was a dark and stormy night, or was it a wild and windy night? Or perhaps it was just night...

A recent event got me thinking about various anomalies such as adverbs, verbs, nouns, subjunctives and the like and what, in actual fact, are they?

Do readers (and I mean readers, not authors who read - in my mind these are two very different categories of people) actually care if writing is full of them or not?

At this juncture, I must make a confession. While I can spell, and my grammar is relatively okay, it is all pretty inate. By that I mean, it's built in. I can structure a sentence but apart from the 'noun' I couldn't tell you wish was the verb, adverb or whatever. I just know what sounds right and what doesn't.

But why are authors so obsessed with these things? Is it a prerequisite of garnering an elusive publishing contract?

Which made me pose the question, do readers actually give a crap or do they just want to be taken on a journey and enjoy the trip? Do they count how many adverbs the author uses? Or count how many times you use the word just? Before I became a writer, I know I certain didn't give a rats backside.

After a recent reading, it was made apparent to me that my writing is somewhat adverb heavy. Adverbs, for those that like me who needed to Google it, are those cheeky little monkeys that tell us when or how or in what manner something was done.

While they seem to be considered the devil by a large component of the authoring community, in my mind, these descriptive little words are what gives the reader a sense of emotion, place, time.

How do you inject more emotion, more feeling into characters without them?

I'll give you some examples of what I mean...

"I silently stared..."  If this was changed to 'I stared', would readers assume that it was done silently?  One could gasp while staring, scream while staring, talk while staring, mumble while staring.  I would not instantly assume that if one stared, it would be done silently.

"My stomach grumbled viciously..."   Again, would it be assumed that a stomach would grumble viciously?  It is my belief that stomachs may grumble low, perhaps quietly, I don't know. But to indicate the severity of the hunger, I have stated that it grumbled viciously.

As a new writer, I am still learning about the 'craft' of writing and I fear I may fall into the trap of counting adverbs or the number of times I use the word just, then, and or actually, instead of focusing on whether I've written an engaging, memorable image for readers.

But like Goldilock's proverbial porridge, how do you know what is too much, what is not enough, and what is just right? I fear I may never know!

Tuesday 3 September 2013

How is editing like an elephant?

You sit in your comfy lounge chair, computer perched on your lap, swimming in an endless sea of chocolate and coffee.

"I want to write a book, how hard can it be!"

So you type and type and drink more coffee and eat more chocolate and in your complete caffeine and sugar fueled state, you churn out fifty thousand words like butter. To you, they sound like literary genius, how could anyone fault your impeccable wordcraft and ability to tell a fantastic tale with more twists and turns than a formula 1 racing circuit.

No one tells you (well actually they do, but you refuse to listen) that editing is the hard part - beware! You find someone you trust enough to show your writing to and you receive back a document covered in red comment boxes. Your confidence takes a nosedive and you  throw your precious manuscript in the dustbin.

After a week or so, those dusty bits of paper lying dormant in the bin starting calling to you. So you pull them out and courageously start to read.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation corrections swim through your work like hungry piranhas. Not to mention the plot holes, clunky sentence structure and the completely confused timeline you have created.

But, you take a deep breath, read over the comments and make some changes. Small at first, then you find yourself bravely cutting huge chunks of superfluous junk from your manuscript. You read back through your edited work and realise that perhaps those authors who critiqued for you might actually know a thing or two.

And so begins the editing process. Going through each sentence, line by line thinking how could it be better?  Does it add to the story or can I cut it completely? You spend hours pouring over words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs trying to find the right way to say something. It might take weeks to get through one chapter.

You update, fix and repair and send it back for another check over. Gradually, the number of red boxes reduce.  But not only do the red boxes reduce, instead of screaming, "fix this!", they now say, "great writing," or, "this works really well.."

While editing has been one of the most challenging parts of this experience so far, it has also been one of the most rewarding. There is nothing like the rush of having a critique person, known for their acute attention to detail and impeccable knowledge of grammar saying that a particular chapter is "stunning" and they didn't make a lot of notes because the story was so engaging that they just got lost in the story.

So some sage advice from one newbie writer to another; don't be afraid of the edit, but don't expect to have everyone that critiques your work fawn all over you as if you were the next J.K. Rowling. Editing is a very long and often difficult process and if you don't break it down, it will swallow you whole.

So what has all this got to do with elephants? 

Well, how do you eat one? 

A lot like editing, one bite at a time...