While I may not be a world famous author who can shed light on the ins and outs of successful manuscripts, there is something that I am doing at a good rate, and that’s learning. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ve learned their lessons the hard way. I won’t pretend to know enough about writing to tell what you should do, but I’ve come to think that other writers might be able to benefit from my mistakes and what I’ve taken away from them. Maybe I can help show you what you shouldn’t do.
I’ve done more than a few things wrong, even in my relatively short time as a “serious writer.” Hey, we’re all learning and constantly improving. The aim of this series of blogs is to take one specific area of writing and analyze it, including examples as best as I can explain them.
Today I plan to start with a pretty important area I didn’t even realize I was neglecting until I got an edit from an established author within my genre (fantasy, if anyone is curious). That aspect is negative information. First let me clarify what I mean when I say negative information. In a nutshell, it’s; using a phrase or word that offers nothing to the story.
It’s different from a superfluous word, those should be cut outright. It’s more choosing the wrong word, one that adds nothing, when you are intending to add something to the story. I was doing it without even noticing, thinking that my descriptions were perfectly fine until I had it explained to me. After that it became rather obvious, and no doubt I would have come to it myself in time, but I didn’t. If I can help you make that same connection, hopefully before you submit that next project, then this post will have been worth it.
Let’s take an example, something easy.
Example one: She paused for a moment. “Is that so?”
Simple enough, and we all understand what it means. Is it wrong to write this way? No, technically it’s not incorrect. It’s just not great writing, look at the word ‘paused.’ What is it telling us? Not a whole lot, honestly. What’s worse? It’s taking up valuable real estate in our manuscript. Word guidelines are fairly strict for first time novelists, and the debut author doesn’t have room for words that don’t have a purpose.
What can we say instead? Maybe something like this.
Example two: She rolled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers before setting it down on the table. “Is that so?”
Hold on though, if ‘paused’ took up valuable real estate why would we use this? It’s even more wordy! Yes, it is. It’s also better writing. The issue with example one is not only that paused doesn’t really tell us what she is doing, but it’s vague and lacks purpose. ‘Moment’ is another weak, vague word. Example two has a clear purpose. It helps give us a sense of her mood, and including the table adds an element of setting. The words have some context to them now. They would have more with an entire paragraph behind them, and even more with a whole scene/chapter/novel drawn out this way.
This is one of those things about writing. Word limits are (supposedly) fairly strict, but the exception to this rule seems to be the writer who knows how to use each and every one of his or her words to their fullest potential. All of them have a purpose. The story doesn’t work without them there. Once you can achieve this you just need to make sure each word makes the reader want to read the next one.
That’s vitally important as well, but a topic for another day. For now, I’m focusing on eliminating my negative information. I learned from my mistake, now hopefully you can too.
C R Alexander