Read more on author Caro Clarke’s website here.
As an editor, I know when I am reading someone’s first novel. I have nicknames for the four give-away faults beginners make: (1) Walk and Chew Gum (2) Furry Dice (3) Tea, Vicar? (4) Styrofoam. I see at least one of these in every manuscript where the author has not mastered the craft of writing before submitting in his or her work. What are these four faults and, more importantly, how can you cure them?
(1) Walk and Chew Gum
The writer has not integrated action and dialogue, internal monologue and action, or internal monologue with dialogue. It is as if the characters can do only one thing at a time. An example:”If you think you’re going to town you’d better thing again,” said Ralph.
He put down his can of beer.
”I’m not having any daughter of mine going to a Cantrell boy’s party, and that’s final!”
”Oh, Pa! How could you be so cruel!” JoBeth cried.
Then, hunting in her pockets for a tissue, she dried her eyes and stared at him defiantly.
”If I want to go, how can you stop me?” she demanded.
Ralph knew this would happen. She had always been independent, like her mother. He half-lurched to his feet.
”You little hussy!” he bellowed.
Running up the stairs, JoBeth turned at the landing.
”I am going, do you hear? I am.”
Not integrating action and dialogue makes for jerky, lifeless prose. Combine, combine, toujours combine:”If you think you’re going to town you’d better think again,” Ralph snapped, putting down his can of beer. She was too damn much like her mother. “I’m not having any daughter of mine going to a Cantrell boy’s party, and that’s final!”
”Oh, Pa! How could you be so cruel!” JoBeth hunted her pockets for a tissue, dried her eyes and stared at him defiantly. “If I want to go, how can you stop me?”
Ralph half-lurched to his feet, bellowing, “You little hussy!” But JoBeth was already upstairs. “I am going, do you hear? I am.”
This might not be award-winning prose, but it reflects the reality of the action and feelings better by having action, thought and dialogue knitted together.
(2) Furry Dice
Adjectives, adverbs and prepositions are furry dice hanging from a car’s mirror. They don’t do anything for the car’s performance, they simply clutter the place. I once stripped a fifth of a novel by removing words and phrases such as ‘very’ ‘up’ ‘down’ ‘over’ ‘about’ ‘some’ ‘a little’ ‘a bit’ ‘somewhat’ ‘whole’ ‘just’ and other modifiers. For instance:She picked up the gun and aimed it straight at him. His smile disappeared as he lifted up his hands into the air. She waved him over to the wall, saying, “Spread ‘em out, and no funny business, you hear?” She checked all of his pockets for the money, then stepped back. “Okay, I’m convinced. You haven’t got it.”
This would be better without the modifiers, and with the tighter language you’ll have to write to replace them:She snatched the gun and aimed. His smile disappeared as his hands climbed. She waved him to the wall, saying, “Spread ‘em, and no funny business, you hear?” She checked his pockets for the money, then retreated. “Okay, I’m convinced. You don’t have it.”
59 words have become 44, and even then the passage could be trimmed. But the first, necessary action, before you seriously begin to rewrite, is to grab that swimming pool net and remove clogging, unnecessary modifiers that muddy the water. Hemingway didn’t need them; you don’t need them.
acosmist - one who believes that nothing exists
paralian - a person who lives near the sea
aureate - pertaining to the fancy or flowery words used by poets
dwale - to wander about deliriously
sabaism - the worship of stars
dysphoria - an unwell feeling
aubade - a love song which is sung at dawn
eumoirous - happiness due to being honest and wholesome
mimp - to speak in a prissy manner, usually with pursed lips
Words to keep inside your pocket:
- Quiescent - a quiet, soft-spoken soul.
- Chimerical - merely imaginary; fanciful.
- Susurrus - a whispering or rustling sound.
- Raconteur - one who excels in story-telling.
- Clinquant - glittering; tinsel-like.
- Aubade - a song greeting the dawn.
- Ephemeral - lasting a very short time.
- Sempiternal - everlasting; eternal.
- Euphonious - pleasing; sweet in sound.
- Billet-doux - a love letter.
- Redamancy - act of loving in return.
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