Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Laser surgery

In yesterday’s post I talked about my campaign to pare down my verbiage. And with all that being said, I have to admit that I am still in awe of writers who can create lush verbal landscapes with sweeping streams of adjectives and broad brush strokes of words. My writing seems more than a little stark by comparison and I’m never sure if I’ve cut too much verbiage when all is said and done.

Roz over at Nail Your Novel has a great post on laser editing.

How focused/ruthless are you in your editing? Do you prefer a pared down style of writing or a more expansive style of storytelling? Cormac McCarthy or Diana Gabaldon?


  1. I don't know which I prefer. The historical was full of long descriptive passages, this is full of long dialogue with spare details. I guess I haven't found my stride.

  2. I'm more of a less is more kind of girl. At least I think that until I have to edit and then I wonder where the hell all these words came from?

  3. I vacillate, honestly, in my reading and my writing. I guess I like the "perfect balance." In my short story writing, I tend to go for very basic prose, stripped down the barest word, but in my noveling, I like to make sure the scene is set and try to really ground the reader in the world (then again, that's more for my urban fantasy/science fiction writing, which I guess makes sense.)

  4. My writing is very flowery, but I enjoy reading both styles. (I loved The Road)

  5. I try to edit as I go so that each sentence is necessary and serves a point. If, at the end of paragraph, something isn't needed, I cut it.

  6. I try to find a balance of both.
    Each sentence needs to move the story forward, and be exactly what it needs to be.
    Some sentences need to be lush to breathe, others need to be sparse and concise for maximum impact.

    (my word verification is: unflu (word!)

    I hope you have a HAPPY Humpday!


  7. My first novel was at one time 179K words. Nuff said.

    One thing I've learned along the way is to use long-winded descriptions only if it's important that the reader know these things. Don't give a wardrobe analysis unless something about what the character is wearing comes up again in a meaningful way or, if the character is important enough, tells us something about him/her. Which leads to...if the character is never going to appear again and it's not necessary to remember him/her, use as little description as possible. Don't clutter readers' minds and make them think they need to remember this person if they don't. Same ideas apply to settings.

    Keeping these in mind helped me do my own laser editing. But now I'm off to read Roz's post. Thanks!

  8. In reading, either work for me. In writing, I'm pretty sure my stuff is sparse. A little too sparse, at times. With each read-through I find myself having to add in bits of description here and there.

  9. I dearly love Corma McCarthy. But I think I'm more of the writing way too much then has to cut out a bunch of crap. I'm working on it :)

  10. I'm struggling with editing right now. Basically, I'm completely rewriting, and I hope that it turns out better rather than worse! I guess I'll just see what my critique buddies think *crosses fingers*

  11. I'm ruthless on passive voice and adverbs. They kill your language. "Had", "that" and all words ending with "-ly" ARE THE ENEMY!! Fire at WILL!!

  12. I write very spare, once I get rid of the trash words. Then I've got to go in and add stuff. I'm not a flowery, poetic type writer but sometimes a long 96-word sentence will worm its way in and if it works, I love it.

  13. I have to say that my first drafts are very verbose. Then I have to go in with the scalpels and pare down the word count. It's a WiP for a reason, right? Right.

  14. It depends on the story. The two writers you bring up illustrate the point. McCormac's "The Road" is spare and stark, just like the landscape and story he's creating. Gabaldon's "Outlander" is the opposite--it's a colorful world of colorful characters and she shares it all with the reader.

    As far as my own writing is natural inclination is wordy (duh, right?) but I try to use the strongest word to make my point. But, again, it depends on the story--if the character is not verbose, I'm not. If the character is, I could go on forever.

    I think I'll read Roz' post just to edit down this response.

  15. Definitely pared down! Bring on the chopping! I love Hemingway - constantly in awe at his sparing use of words.

  16. My rule of thumb is this: If a word or part of a sentence isn't working at maximum power to move the story forward, no matter how brilliantly gorgeous it is, it has to go. The key is using the revision phase to find places where weak words and structure can be replaced by verbs and modifiers with the highest impact, whose energy carries the most bang for the buck.

    The very best practice you can get to develop the skill, I think, is writing short fiction for contests with strict word count limits. I typically write the story I want to pen. The first draft is always wordy, and I've been challenged to par down a 2600+ word first draft to meet a 2000 word limit requirement. That's about a fifth of the story. The task always seems daunting and I'm afraid I'll lose the vital essence or voice of the piece. But I promise you, every time the resulting story is more vibrant, dynamic, and enjoyable to read than the first draft.

    Novelists don't have to be as strict because the format is more forgiving, but a long-winded story with grandiose verbiage generally won't make it to the bookshelves. If the author is exceptional, the story might still sell, but the editors will push up their sleeves and grind their axes.

    Thanks for the link -- checking it out now!

  17. I'm a pared down writer, and reader. I love to find just the precise, exact words to phrase an idea, such that when you read it, you just "get" it. There's no other way to communicate it.

  18. Personally, either way is fine with me. But it seems that "less is more" is very popular. :)

  19. Anne, I think you will. I'm a big fan of dialogue and history. :)

    Jade-LMAO! They do have a way of sneaking in there when you're not looking, don't they? :)

    Summer, you're right about perfect balance. and I think you might also be right about format, and genre, an structure governing our word choice.

    Aubrie, The Road rocks. I enjoy both styles as well. And I like reading your writing. :)

    Chrisi, I envy you your inner editor. Very impressive discipline. :)

    Lola-yay!for balance! I love your way of looking at it. Happy Hump Day to you. :)

    Kristie, I know what you mean. My first was 165K.

    Tara, I find that myself. I always feel like I've cut too much and maybe need to add a little or maybe find a better word choice. :)

    Crystal, hee! I'm right there with you on the writing too much crap that needs to be cut. :)

    Tiana, good luck with the rewriting. I hope it goes well. :)

    B. Miller, LMAO! Stab, stab, stab the passive away. :)

    Karen, I don't know what's worse, cutting or adding words. :)

    Elana, exactly. That's a great way of looking at it. :)

    Eva, LMAO! but are right, as usual.

    Talli, yay!chopping! Didn't he write the six word story?

    Nicole, thanks for the rule of thumb. It's great. And you're right. Writing short is great practice and discipline.

    Joanne, yes. I love finding the perfect word. :)

    Kimberly, hee! I'm all about the less. :)

  20. Right now, I'm editing/cutting a manuscript. I try to give just enough description to move the story along and give the reader credit without adding more, thinking they don't know a character's emotion from the dialogue. Show not tell. Vivid verbs. Cut the adverbs. It's exhausting.

  21. My natural tendency is to write bare bones, but then I go back in and try to add in the setting descriptions, sensory details, etc. My problem is usually too few words, not too many.

  22. Man, if I could write like McCarthy! I tend to write sparsely and have to add things in. Therefore, I have a lot of edits to look forward to. Good thing I like my story (right now).

  23. My writing seems more than a little stark by comparison and I’m never sure if I’ve cut too much verbiage when all is said and done.

    Not stark at all. *Essential* is more like it: I've often commented about the cinematic quality of your writing, the incredible way with which you evocate landscapes, characters, feelings, with just a handful of words.

    Yes, there are writers that do equally well with "broad brush strokes of words" (a certain JRRT comes to mind...), but this is *their* style, not yours. Your *voice* is essential, streamlined, and yet it conveys meaning in a powerful way. It is *you*.
    And as the song goes, we like you just the way you are... :-)