Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Blood-Red Pencil

I recently found this copy-editing blog, and one post jumped out at me. It's all about empty fillers in your writing. Here's some examples they used:
When Rachel stared at her, Lina blinked and cocked her head, then groaned.

Lara smirked at Betty, then shook her head and grinned.
Now, I asked myself, what's wrong with those? They're descriptive, give me a sense of what the character was doing...what's wrong? How is that filler?

Well, to be honest, it's not entirely filler....but it's still not good writing. There's nothing new there. And you might not realize how tired those adjectives and verbs are until you look at a passage that actually is innovative:
Then, like a dog hearing a sound on some inaudible frequency, he cocked his head. (Katherine V. Forrest, Daughters of an Amber Dawn, 2002)
That's better. It's fine if your character cocks her head to listen--but add something else, make it something more--make it something new.

16 comments:

lotusloq said...

but I keep hearing to cut out the similes and the adverbs etc. What's a gal to do?

beth said...

Cut out the cliche similes, and don't overuse adverbs with dialog tags. Keep the stuff that makes your ms. unique!

Lady Glamis said...

Thank you, Beth! I'm currently editing, and this is one of the things that I'm working on. Last time I edited, I cut thousands of words worth of filler... ugh!

Sheri said...

My goodness, you're prolific! I turn around for five seconds and you have a thousand new posts! I can't keep up with you. LOVE the hair model photo! Your comments made me crack up!

beth said...

Glamis--Yeah, I'm editing, too...and...ARGH!

Sheri--I like to keep it fresh and sparkly, like my favorite hair commercials! :)

Jill Wheeler said...

I'm horrible about this stuff! Like Lady Glamis, I'm editing, and cutting words like crazy. All of my people look at each other happily, sadly, curiously, pointedly. Agh! Enough!

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I also teach HS English. Isn't it fun? Time for Christmas break!

beth said...

Welcome, Jill! I tried to fix my adverbs with too many gerund phrases...and now have to cut them, too! It's a never ending cycle...

And, oh, yeah! I am so looking forward to Christmas!!!

PJ Hoover said...

Hey! This is great advice! I love it!
Thanks!

Justus M. Bowman said...

"When Rachel stared at her, Lina blinked and cocked her head, then groaned."

I think the main problem here has nothing to do with cocking. It's way too many verbs! Yes, I said it -> verbs.

Like this: As Julie smiled at me, I raised an eyebrow and laughed, then grinned.

Wait...does that seem better than the quoted sentence?

Fine, I give up. :'( Maybe it is them ole "simile" fellows.

Don't worry about me. I'm going to bed like a pancake on a cloudy day. ;) Night!

beth said...

No worried, PJ!

And Justus--Ha! Going to bed like a pancake on a cloudy day!! Brilliant! :)

beth said...

worried = worries

It's too early.

Must drink more Red Bull.

Vivian said...

Good post, Beth! Thanks for this tip to help our manuscripts sing!

Beth Kephart said...

Thank you, Beth, for stopping by. Which encouraged me to stop by. Which gave me reason to read this fine post. From which I have learned (again) something important.

beth said...

Thanks Viv! And welcome Beth--you've got a great first name, by the way :)

adrienne said...

Great advice, and that looks like an interesting site. Thanks for the info!

Marian said...

Yesterday I told the manager at my workplace about something bizarre that had happened, and she didn't just cock her head.

She turned it ninety degrees sideways. I didn't know that was humanly possible, and I thought for a moment that she was going to break her neck. Maybe what I had told her was Just. That. Bad.

She lived, though, and went on to help me solve the problem. I think she's just really, really flexible. Either that or a Terminator.

Totally off topic, I know :( but your post just made me think of that moment.