I love the month of May. It’s my favorite.
The first reason is because it’s my birthday, so I get cake and presents.
The second is because it’s Mother’s Day, wherein I get cake and presents.
The third is that it’s teacher appreciation week, and back when I was a teacher, this resulted in cake and presents. For dayz. I’m not a teacher anymore, but I had my Mid-Year Review this month with my boss and he gave me a “meets and exceeds expectations” grade, so that’s pretty much monetary cake and presents.
A lot of people benefit from May besides Tauruses, mothers, and teachers, so consider this post literary cake-n-presents for beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries. Because I’m all about equality. You’re welcome.
Housekeeping. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Wait, that’s not the cliché I was looking for. Here it is—
“CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS.”
When things are clean, their value skyrockets. They are aesthetically superior. Your psyche improves, and your mood heightens. I’m not making this up—there are real statistics, guys. Movements, even. Cults. Disorders.
The same goes for writing. Sharp, concise writing is, well, aesthetically superior. It’s what objectively separates great writers from mediocre writers. Why objectively? Because it’s not “wrong” to have a messy house, just like it’s not “wrong” to have sloppy writing, assuming it’s grammatically correct. But would you rather be a guest at a dinner party in a pristine, spotless home? Or in the home of a subject from Hoarders?
Think of your readers as guests in your house. You want to treat them with respect. You’d be surprised to know how many times my intelligence has been insulted by an author who doesn’t clean up before I enter his/her book-home.
I know I’m being super confusing. I’m sorry. It’s the wine and yuca chips. Also, the dog is licking my foot, and it’s distracting.
There are certain phrases that I see over and over while editing. And please know that these are things written by GOOD writers, and there is nothing WRONG with the way they’re written, but they need just a little cleaning up:
I spy with my little eye … a pattern of redundancy. If you hired me as your editor, you’d see this list looking like this:
Again, none of those initial sentences are grammatically incorrect. But how much cleaner is it when you remove those obvious words? I mean, what else can you shrug besides shoulders? What can you possibly nod besides your head? Listen, if you’re clapping things that are not your hands, then DON’T market this as a YA novel.
Your readers are smart—they know. Trust me. And while those examples may be more subtle, there are times where authors don’t give themselves enough credit. I can read their insecurities more than I read their words.
Here is an example of a perfectly executed dynamic, used with permission from author SP Drewry:
A tickle itches my thigh. Sticking my arm into the vibrating bag, I yank out the flashing phone.The wind whooshes through the cab and I plug a finger in my ear.
“Hello? Hey—hey can you hear me?”
What is happening here? Well, we use deductive reasoning and logic to conclude that the MC is getting a phone call. NOT ONCE did the author say, “my phone was ringing.” She combined a tickle to her thigh, a vibrating bag, a flashing phone, a finger to the ear, and dialogue. Now I’m Einstein because I know—without her tagging something about a phone ringing—that she’s got a phone call. Also, I know that it’s loud where she is. But she never came out and said, “It’s loud in here.” She uses whooshing wind and actions of plugging fingers in ears. She throws the final punch by capitalizing on dialogue—Hello? Can you hear me?
There have been so many times that I’ve read fantastic descriptions like this, only to be concluded with, “My phone was ringing.” My shoulders physically slump. Not only is that insulting to the reader, but you’re showing that you’re not confident in your own writing—it’s like you’re apologizing to your reader for not being clear.
I didn’t explain myself well enough. So let me just come right out and say it.
Stop it! You’re a good writer! Give yourself credit! I understand—these things come naturally. They slip out of our fingers without even realizing it. So expect your first draft to be full of these. I’d be concerned if they weren’t! But when it’s time for housekeeping (AKA – before you send it to Traci for a line edit), keep an eye out for those.
Another common yet overlooked clusterf*ck is “filtering.” This is when you filter the action through the MC’s eyes.
I felt the tears slip down my cheeks.
Okay, that’s nice. I get it. But how much cleaner is—
Tears slip down my cheeks.
It’s a given that the MC feels the tears; it’s not necessary to tell me that.
I saw him slip a knife into his pocket.
He slipped a knife into his pocket.
Again, nothing is wrong with either. But which one is smarter? Sharper? More concise? Which one says, “I’m a good writer, you’re a smart reader, and together, we communicate one heck of a story.”?
So check this out—my last manuscript had an initial word count of 103k words. ONE HUNDRED THREE THOUSAND WORDS!!!! I nearly had a heart attack. My heart was pounding in my chest.
So after cutting many redundant and unnecessary paragraphs in the first read-through, bringing it down to 97k, I went back and removed all the head-nodding and hand-clapping and heart-pounding. And voila—93k, Baby! Yeah! You’ll be shocked at how those excess words affect your total word count.
Okay, it’s time for this post—and May—to come to a close. Now I have to wait a whole eleven months for the Justin Timberlake meme to surface. The one that has made me giggle for years now.
It’s gonna, gonna, gonna, gonna, gonna…
There’s nothing like that for June. Unless you’re, like, Johnny Cash. And we’re not, soooo…