Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Superfluous Words

How much of your novel or other writing is concise and pertinent to your plot, and how much of it is extra or superfluous? Do we really need to say everything our characters are thinking and doing? Sometimes less is more. Consider the following.

Most of the time, our characters are happy to see each other. When they see each other or call each other up, they say a few lines of greeting. Do we really need to show all that dialogue? Um, no. In most cases, readers don't care, and it slows down the pacing of your scene. Cut to the chase!

Wordy Example
I pick up my phone and call Shenice, eager to plan our hike to the lodge.
"Hello?" she says, her voice sounding groggy in my ear.
"Hi, how's it going?" I ask.
"Fine. Just a little sleepy. How are you doing?"
"Good. Listen, we need to plan our hike to the lodge this afternoon. What should we bring?"

Concise Example
I call Shenice, who answers with a groggy mumble.
"We finally get to hike to the lodge this afternoon!" I say. "What should we bring?"

There's really no pertinent info missing in the second example, and it's less than HALF as long--25 vs 58 words. The second example also eliminates the double statements of "eager to plan our hike to the lodge" and "I'd like to plan our hike to the lodge." There's no need to state your character's intention and then repeat it in a dialogue line.

The second examples also Shows in the dialogue that the main character is eager (finally, get to, and an exclamation mark), rather than Telling the reader she is. And yet "who answers with a groggy mumble" is a subtle--and dare I say acceptable?--kind of Telling that summarizes the boring stuff.

I've always thought it rude or abrupt to have two characters walk away from a conversation without saying goodbye. I mean, polite people say farewell to each other, right? But this situation may actually be another place where a bit of Telling is better ("they said goodbye, and he trotted into the kitchen to nab some lunch"). Or just have your characters say nothing at all. There are ways to make it sound less abrupt, and sometimes it's just a matter of getting used to how it sounds.

Wordy Example
He smiled. "Okay, I'm heading off to the gym. I'll see you tomorrow, right?"
"Sure," she said, mirroring his smile. "I'll see you then."
"Okay. Goodbye." He waved.
"Goodbye." She waved in return and walked away, wishing it were already tomorrow.

Concise Example
He smiled. "I'm heading off to the gym. Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Sure." She mirrored his smile and walked away, wishing it were already tomorrow.

Did you even miss all the goodbyes and the waving? Probably not. The gist of their farewell is still there, without all the superfluous details of a lengthy parting. If you really wanted it to be drawn out to show they're reluctant to say goodbye, you could add a few other (more interesting) details to Show they're reluctant.

Yeah. Well. Okay. All right. You know. Sure, your characters can show hesitation when your character is truly hesitant or nervous, but don't overdo it. A little bit can go a long way. It could be that one particular character has a habit of saying these words, but make sure it's only that one character, not everyone. Did you notice in the Wordy Example above that the male character says "Okay" twice? It's not needed either time. As writers, we're not duplicating real-life conversation--we're approximating it, tightening it, filtering it, and finding its essence.

On my last novel revision, I eliminated 230 words just taking out hellos, goodbyes, yeahs, wells, and okays. That's nearly a PAGE of writing! Eeep.

Do you need to run off now and check your writing for extra greetings or farewells?
Are you constantly using filler words like "yeah" and "well" and "okay"?
Do you think it sounds abrupt or cut off when two characters don't say goodbye?
Can you think of any other words that slow pacing and are better to delete?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


It's time to announce the winners of the YA book giveaway! (drumroll please)

WINNERS as chosen by
1. TOUCH by Jus Accardo: Crystal Collier!
2. UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi: Emily R. King!
3. SHIFTER by Janice Hardy: Marcy Hatch! (mshatch)
4. ORIGIN by Jessica Khoury: Tammy216!

Congratulations! Please email me at artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com if I haven't already contacted you, so I can get your address and send your prize!! (Especially Tammy, since there's no email address attached to her profile.) Happy reading, everyone.

Personal Update
I just finished an 11-week (yep, serious stuff!) revision on my agented YA novel, SHAPERS. This revision involved fleshing out the main character's best friends, boosting the worldbuilding, giving the MC an attitude overhaul to make her more sympathetic and less snarky, toning down one conflict and amping up another one, sharpening the theme, etc. I also decided to rewrite part of the ending. Now that I've taken a few days' break, I'm ready to jump back into my new "magical realism" WIP, which is 2/3 done. Time to change gears!

Writing Tidbit for the Day
Something my agent nabs me on is what she calls "renegade body parts." This is where things like eyeballs do crazy and improbable things, or body parts sound detached from the characters. Such as:

1. Her eyes bounced around the room, trying to find her brother. Should be her GAZE.
2. His eyes slid away from her. Ditto--more accurate would be his GAZE.
3. My hand closed around the doorknob. As opposed to something better: I closed my hand around the doorknob. Or more simply: I grabbed the doorknob.
4. Her legs ran, trembling with fatigue. Sounds like her legs are running off by themselves. Better: She ran, her legs trembling with fatigue.

What have YOU been doing lately, and what are your writing goals for the summer?
What's your favorite genre to read? What's your favorite genre to write?
Do you have trouble with bouncing, sliding, and skittering eyes in your manuscript?
Do body parts in your writing sound like they're acting on their own?