Tag Archives: editing

Killing Your Darlings

The Importance of Editing

‘Murder’ or ‘Kill your darlings’ is an adage attibuted to the literary critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, advising writers to cut the words / phrases to which they are most attached, in order to strenghten the work. It is good advice when editing, as often we writers shoehorn in a delicious description which doesn’t do an enromous amount for the piece as a whole. It is simply a bauble. Time to get the gun out.

Editing makes the job of writer a rather schizophrenic affair where one has to don two very different caps. The first cap is that of the creative free thinker who is focused on the big picture and is not too worried about the details. This is the person who comes up with the story, the theme, the basic structure, the person who invents characters and decides on the tone. This artist-writer will draw up the first draft of the story, writing only to please themselves. Finishing a draft wearing this cap is only some of the journey, however…

Next comes the cap of editor-writer. This is when the writer combs through the text, ruthlessly chopping, restructuring and cutting unnecessary/ unsuitable words, characters, scenes, phrases etc… or ‘murdering your darlings’. This is the writer preparing the text for other people. It is a good idea to leave a few weeks between your artist and editor incarnations.

Editing can be painful, and time-consuming. You’ve quite likely become attached to some characters, scenes, words and phrases and are loathe to see them go. Don’t worry, you can store them in your “writer’s bag” for use at a future time in a more suitable context. In the meantime, get pruning…

Chopping advice:

Cut all surplus adjectives and adverbs.

Examine the phrases you’ve shoehorned in just because you liked the sound of them – do they really fit that scene? Be honest. If not, bin them.

Take out all vague words such as “seem/seemingly” and try to do without your “justs”.

Look at all sentences that run for two or three lines. Do they really need to be that long? Can you reduce them or break them up? If you can, do so.

Active forms are better than passive forms, where possible (ie. “John cleaned the flat” rather than, “the flat was cleaned by John”).

Finally, every writer on Earth needs a reader or two – fresh eyeballs to run over your work and give you honest feedback. I suggest using three friends whom you trust will be frank with you. You don’t have to take everything they say on board. Do consider what they say, however, and if all three come back and say a character is not working. The character is not working. Rewrite.


Clean up clutter

Clean up clutter

There aren’t any rules in creative writing but…. there kind of are.

At least, if you’re a newbie, unpublished, unpractised writer, then you ought to learn the ‘unwritten’ laws of the craft. Once you are up and running, then respected and published and lauded, you can break every rule in the book (so long as you are doing so for a reason).

For now, learn your craft.

Probably the most common “rookie mistake” is to cram sentences with adjectives and adverbs. A new writer will often fall in love with words and phrases and become over-enthusiastic in their application. However, overly verbose writing deadens the impact of the sentence – which defeats its purpose. By all means, use adjectives but go easy and be clear.

An example of an adjective/adverb heavy sentence:

‘A dark grey, crinkled brow of solemn cloud crept sluggishly over the majestic hills that were patchily bruised with a blackish purple moss and randomly spiked with prickly yellow furze.’

There is too much going on in this sentence. Each individual image is in competition for the readers’ attention. The result is a boring blur. Think about what is necessary here. Everyone knows furze is yellow and prickly, so do you need to inform the reader of these facts? “Majestic” doesn’t really do anything here – except communicate that the hill is big, which one would assume.

I would pare the sentence to the following: ‘A cloud slugged over the hills.’

I hope you can see how ‘less is more’ here. The image is much stronger without shoehorning in all those adjectives/adverbs.

A note on adverbs:

Adverbs have a bad reputation in the literary world. Many writers avoid them completely (there’s one right there). I would suggest you use them with caution and very, very sparingly (see, another one) and never, ever with speech attribution (“she said nervously”). Adverbs like “suddenly” or “immediately” are thought of as cliché traffic lights. If something happens unexpectedly in a story, you don’t need to “flag it” to make the reader aware that this was a “sudden” action – it should be obvious. So, don’t use them.

Over reliance on adjectives and adverbs is a typical, and some would say necessary, phase for those beginning their writing journey. So, don’t worry if you recognize your own writing here. As “mistakes” go, the over use of adjectives and adverbs is a useful one, as it serves to build your vocabulary. All good writers should have this phase. Just keep calm, carry on, edit down the adjectives and remove the adverbs – and you’re on your way.


Haiku you do?

Get your haiku on...

The Japanese know how to appreciate the moment: tea ceremonies where the design and the feel of the cup is lauded, the colour of the drink discussed, the scent, the very feel of the beverage dissected and praised.

Not surprising, therefore, the land of the rising sun gave us the haiku. Haiku is a poetic form that, traditionally, aims to capture a moment in nature, like a snapshot with words.

Most typically achieved using seventeen syllables arranged in three unrhymed lines of five, seven and five syllables, the practice of writing haikus is particularly useful if you are engaged in a word-limited literary arena such as writing songs. In such instances, words should be chosen carefully so that they can convey the specific mood, meaning and impact you require and haikus can help you build up that muscle. Haikus encourage you to pick up every word and study it closely for its sound, meaning, feel and impact.

Here are some examples of the haiku:

O’er the wintry wood,

winds howl in an empty rage

with no leaves to blow.

Soseki (1275-1351)

My all time favourite, however, is the haiku by the ‘punk poet, John Cooper Clarke:

 

Writing a poem

In seventeen syllables

Is very diffic.

(John Cooper Clarke, 1979)


And the prize goes to…..a website!

And the prize goes to.....a website!

Many, many thanks to all you lovely people for your support and inspired suggestions re how I ought to spend my hard earned twenty quid (thirty dollars).

It was a tough call, given some of the rather interesting and tempting suggestions you dangled before me but my newly fortyish head won out and I blew the lot on an upgrade from blog-to-own website.

So, welcome to suehealy.org : )

Ici n’est pas une banane

watch this space xo


Go “hggahgoiihaghoogla”

Got that morning feeling?

It’s dawn 6am and you’ve risen early just to get those ‘morning pages’ done. And you’re staring at a blank sheet. Writer, you need warm up.

Just as many painters will apply a beige wash to a blank canvas to stop it looking so virgin – you’ll need to put something down on the page – “hggahgoidihgogha” will do, just get something down, break that white, crack that ice. Next, do a non-dominant hand exercise. If you are right-handed, then pick up a pen and start to write with your left. If you’re on a laptop, then type “The quick brown fox…” with your left hand alone. If you’re left-handed, apply vice vearsa.

Enjoy the sensation of the pen flowing over your paper or the tap of your finger tips on the keyboard and don’t think too hard about what you’re writing. Let it flow. When you’ve written out the fox/dog sentence a few times, continue on with the story. Where does the fox go next? Why is the dog feeling lazy? Where are they? What does the air smell like? What sounds can you/they hear? Is it hot or cold? Wet or dry? How does the dog feel when the fox jumps over him? Does he plan revenge? Once you’ve done a paragraph or two, you’ll probably find that the creative juices are flowing enough for you to turn your attention to that story you were working on before – or read over your freewrite, there might be the kernel of something worth working on.

Now, I’m off to take my own advice…


The Why of it All

A Norfolk flint wall, cracking with ideas

Well done all of you six month challengers who have plugged into the writing rapture and are producing realms of the stuff. I am in awe.

I haven’t been doing so well on my target of 500 a day, and that makes me feel awful as I was the one who launched the comp. I know I can find excuses what with being out of the country and all but it’s just not good enough, dammit.

I’m also being slack re writing short stories of late and I’m usually very on the ball there. I think I may simply be tired. Anyway, to motivate myself and hopefull you too, I’m going to re-post here a list of reasons I should keep working on my short stories (as well as my novel, but that reason is self evident).

a) Being shortlisted encourages and motivates when such stuff is difficult to come by in the writers’ life.

b) I can get published in literary magazines.

c) Money, if I win.

d) It keeps me on my toes and hones and polishes my craft.

e) By writing stories I build up a portfolio just in case I’m ever offered a collection.

f) It gives me an edge when applying for bursaries, residencies, funding etc..

g) It might bring  the attention of publishers.

h) Short stories are something I can work on when time is limited.

i) An agent once told me that it is important to build up your writing ‘credits’.

j) Agents are human and sometimes don’t trust their own judgement, so wins and commendations give you that ‘seal of approval’/credibility.

k) Short story writing is a better displacement activity than making a cup of tea.

M) Having good writing credits help when applying for writing jobs.

p) Writing short stories reminds me that I’m a writer.

Now, I guess I should stare at a wall like Leonardo da Vinci and get inspired. Hello wall, have you got any novel ideas?

Six Month Challenge:

Day 5

Word count: 1,900


Write a Novel in 6months

Novel this way; Go for it!

How long does it take to write a novel?

When I was a teen, my favourite novel was Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan which the young Frenchwoman supposedly wrote in a three week sitting. However, I’m sure that legend is somewhat misleading. Though Sagan may have got the initial splurge down on paper in three weeks, it probably took many months of overhaul to bring to publishable standard.

Everyone writes differently. Everyone has their own approach. Some may write 2,000 words a day but may only be able to use about 200 of them come editing stage. Others might get 100 down, but they’ll be good, solid words you can bring forward. The former write from the outside in, the latter move slowly from the inside out.

‘Outsiders’ write manically, getting the story and the words on page. They’ll get a surplus of words on paper relatively quickly and will then spend the next six months to a year editing, rewriting, crafting, pruning and shaping. ‘Insiders’ tend to be methodical planners. They have a very clear idea of where they are going with their novel before they sit to write a single word and then they revise every sentence as they go. This method is quite painstaking, however the writer will not have much of an editing stage as they are, essentially, editing as they go. Therefore, it is hard to say how long it takes to write a novel. That very much depends on your approach.

The Six-Month Challenge

Having said that, I recently read about a ‘six-month’ challenge and I think it is a good regime for beginners. The idea is that you give yourself six months to write 80,000 words. You need to commit to writing 500 words every day. This figure is roughly a page of text, double spaced in 12 point Times New Roman font. Give yourself 45 minutes (at least) per day to deliver. Do not allow internet/phone/family/any distractions to interfere with this time. You may say that you are too busy but we can all find 45 minutes if we try. Get up 45 minutes early, skip your daily soap opera, cut down on your web-surfing etc… You’ll find the time if you want to. By the end of six months, you should have 80,000 words to spend the next six months polishing and editing. I am seriously thinking of doing the ‘six-month challenge’, to work on an idea I’ve had for a novel for a while.

I’m thinking of starting on October 1st. Would any of you be interested in joining me in this exercise. The team spirit would carry us all forward and would keep us focused.

Honk if you’re in!


Sending off baby

Taking the leap; letting baby fly

Now, you have your completed, proofread manuscript in hand (or on file). It’s time to send baby off to the agents, or at least ask the agents if baby can come visit.

You will find agency contact details in the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. There are many listed, read through carefully as there is no point in sending a historical romance off to an agency that specializes in SciFi. It might be a good idea to do further agency research online. Take note of who accepts email submissions, or hard copy only, and make sure you meticulously follow any guidelines.

In terms of choosing an agent to approach, I suggest thinking of an author whose work yours most resembles and then finding the agency or agent who represents them. Read through the acknowledgements in a book by that author and you’ll probably find the agent’s name listed, as writers usually thank their agents in the credits.

Initially, you ought to send a single-page inquiry letter to the agency. Outline your writing credentials. Include, in a few lines, the plot, genre and theme of your work. Ask if the agent would be interested in reading the first few chapters. You could attach a brief synopsis with this inquiry but I wouldn’t advise sending on your chapters until invited to do so.

Be aware that agents can take months to get back to you. Aware of this fact, many writers, understandably, send their work off to multiple agents at the same time. However, these multiple send-offs don’t sit well with the agents themselves. It’s a tough call, and the few agents I’ve spoken too say that although they’d prefer if you didn’t simultaneously approach other agents, they understand it happens and in such cases they appreciate it if writers let them know the work is under consideration by others too (and don’t send to more than three agents in one go).

If the agent likes your proposal, they may ask to see the first three chapters. If these fly, you may get a request for the full manuscript. The wait can be nerve-wracking. The best advice I’ve received is to start working on your second (or third or fourth) novel the day the first one goes off to the agents. If nothing else it gives you a new focus and if you do get picked up, you’ll be ready with a second book by the time the first goes to print.

 And as a final check :

1)       Make sure all your pages are numbered.

2)       Make sure your name and the title of your work appears on the header of every page.

3)       Use a standard serif typeface (Times New Roman or Georgia) in 12 point. Avoid weird or wacky fonts.

4)       Print double-spaced and single-sided on (non-scented) white A4 paper.

5)       Don’t send pictures of your cat’s kittens or glitter or a poem. You won’t look cute, you’ll look weird and desperate and you’ll never make it past the slush pile.

Here is a sample letter (email) of inquiry:

Dear Mr Agent,

I am a published poet and I have also written some articles for local papers in my home city of Ipswich.

I have recently completed my first novel, ‘The Big One’. I believe the genre and story-line accord with many represented by your agency and I would like to send my manuscript to you for consideration. The novel is approximately 78,000 words long, is set in contemporary Ipswich. It is a crime novel.

The plot centres around three old prison friends, recently reunited on the outside. The trio plan a jewel heist in order to help a fourth friend fund a medical operation. The heist is bungled and the former inmates discover they have been duped by the very person they had risked all to help. The novel explores friendship and betrayal and the battle between revenge and forgiveness.

I am attaching a more detailed synopsis and will forward my manuscript at your request.

Please let me know if you are interested in reading the same.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph T. Doe


Murder Your Darlings

The importance of editing.

Giving it polish

A writer has to be prepared to wear two very different caps. First cap is that of the creative free thinker who is focused on the big picture and is not too worried about the details. This is the person who comes up with the story, the theme, the basic structure, the person who invents characters and decides on the tone. This artist-writer will draw up the first draft of the story, writing only to please themselves. Finishing a draft wearing this cap is only some of the journey, however…

Next comes the cap of editor-writer. This is when the writer combs through the text, ruthlessly chopping, restructuring and cutting unnecessary/ unsuitable words, characters, scenes, phrases etc… or as they say in publishing “murdering your darlings”. This is the writer preparing the text for other people. It is a good idea to leave a few weeks between your artist and editor incarnations.

Editing can be painful, and time-consuming. You’ve quite likely become attached to some characters, scenes, words and phrases and are loathe to see them go. Don’t worry, you can store them in your “writer’s bag” for use at a future time in a more suitable context. In the meantime, get pruning…

Chopping advice:

Cut all surplus adjectives and adverbs.

Examine the phrases you’ve shoehorned in just because you liked the sound of them – do they really fit that scene? Be honest. If not, bin them.

Take out all vague words such as “seem/seemingly” and try to do without your “justs”.

Look at all sentences that run for two or three lines. Do they really need to be that long? Can you reduce them or break them up? If you can, do so.

Active forms are better than passive forms, where possible (ie. “John cleaned the flat” rather than, “the flat was cleaned by John”).

Finally, every writer on Earth needs a reader or two – fresh eyeballs to run over your work and give you honest feedback. I suggest using three friends whom you trust will be frank with you. You don’t have to take everything they say on board. Do consider what they say, however, and if all three come back and say a character is not working. The character is not working. Rewrite.