Thursday, January 28, 2010
So everyone's been talking a lot about queries lately and how to be concise and to the point in your writing, which is great. Go for it. You should be able to sum up your book in a single sentence or even two. You should be picky with your words; don't use too many adverbs!
But sometimes it's good too take your writing to the extremes.
It's good to know what too much and too little is so that you can find that happy medium. (I could relate this to music again but no one seemed to care for that...so I won't do that again, I guess.)
I think bad writing, like bad movies, has its usefulness. Both teach you what not to do, and knowing what not to do can be a lot more helpful than knowing what you should do. It's like trying to talk about what you liked in a book. Sometimes you love it, but putting it into words can be really hard; the same goes for disliking a book. There's just something about writing that's hard to actually describe; you just know when something works or even harder when it doesn't.
A bad movie is great for a laugh. It has over the top dialogue and most of the time some seriously cheesy acting. (One of my favorites is Vampire Wars: Battle for the Universe [Yes, you read that right; space vampires.] Or if you don't want vampires, there's always Garuda, which should be watched with subtitles AND dubbed [subtitles first, please].)
Over the top writing, however, is just obnoxious. It isn't funny; it can ruin a book, and can keep me from going back to an author.
So what is over the top? Excess. A little bit of everything is good, but too much of something (the word "like" for example) can get ugly and old fast. Don't believe me? Even typos can ruin a book. But let's forget typos and look just at word choices.
(A lot of this also comes down to taste. You have to be your own judge.)
1) Billy rode a bike through the rain to the grocery store. (Meh. It's pretty straight forward; you could use it and be fine.)
Let's get a bit more descriptive.
2) Billy pedaled hard and fast through the rain hoping to make it to the grocery store before he got soaked to the bones. (There's a little more to the story now. Billy isn't just taking his time and enjoying the rain as he rides to the store. He's got a task to do, and he doesn't want to be out in the rain any longer than he has to.)
3) Billy pumped the pedals of his father's too large bike through the pouring rain to get to the grocery store, not caring that his jacket was already sticking to his back and water was seeping into his shoes. (More description adds another layer to the story. Billy isn't just trying to get to the store, it's starting to seem important that he gets there. Why else would he take his dad's bike even though it's too big for him and ride it through a storm just to get to the grocery store? What is so important? The reader will start to wonder, possibly without even realizing it. We're gonna have to break this sentence up soon!)
4) Billy pumped the pedals of his father's too large bike with the short, chubby legs of a child. He pedaled hard through the torrent of rain that stung his face and made his clothes stick to him; his shoes squelched with every pump of the pedals. He struggled up the hill towards the grocery store. (Alright, this is good. At least I think so, and I even think we're starting to hit the point of no return. Let's see how much further I can take this.)
5) The rain beat down on Billy as he slammed down on the pedals of his father's awkwardly large bike. His jacket stuck to his back, and his wet jeans made it hard to maneuver the bike up the hill. Rain pelted his face, stinging his eyes and making it difficult to navigate. Billy ignored the sound of his socks squelching inside of his soaked shoes and the raw blisters that were forming; he pedaled on. The grocery store was close.
Are we getting the picture? 'Cause this is getting hard haha, as well it should be. It should get harder and harder to write like this and keep adding details without really changing anything. Which shows that your inner editor knows something is not quite right, and sooner or later you'll start cringing. It'll be too much. I'm not going to keep going because frankly just writing number 5 up there hurt me; I kept catching myself revising it.
Now if you find a paragraph like- or more extreme than- number 5, try to work back words until you've got something a little more manageable. Find out what the core of it is; in this case: Billy rode a bike through the rain to the grocery store.
So that's my two cents for the week. I hope it made sense and that it might actually help someone. Good luck with your writing, and let me know if you give this a shot (and how it works out for you)!
What techniques/tricks/exercises do you use to tighten up your writing?