Writing is easy

After churning out a draft, all I have to do is take a quick whiz through, looking for the following . . .

Flat prose
Is there specific detail? What type of knife was it? But the detail needs to be relevant, i.e revealing of character.

Sensory imprecision
Have I used my eyes, ears, fingers, nose and tongue against the concrete? All of the senses.

Is that Bellow-like list of juicy, stimulating, delightful adjectives justified? Should I shun the adverb? Must I delete that florid passage?

Sickening pet words
Have I allowed those sickening repeats? For me it's moment, moment, moment (and sickening, sickening, sickening). And a whole lexicon of others in a sickening word document for searching.

Character motive
Would she really say that? Why doesn't he simply call the police? Is she just doing that to help me out of a plot problem?

Why do I show that and tell that? Mostly show. Have I shown the key action?

Dialogue content
Does it have conflict? Does it have subtext? 'You're looking nicely dressed today.' Does it reveal character? Never the hideous info dump - just saying it to let the reader know.

Dialogue style
Is it abbreviated and truncated like speech? Do different characters have different vocal patterns?

Word music
Can I hear the rhythm and flow of the words. Read it aloud.

What is the order of revelation of the story. Does it hold the reader? Mystery = what happened? Suspense = what's going to happen?

Authorial voice
Can you bear to keep your nose out of it? (I can’t). At least try to put it into the character.

How does the time pass? Do I skip the right things? Does it have to be linear?

Is the setting another boring pub? Does the setting reflect or affect the characters or the action? Pathetic Fallacy.

Is this someone the reader will want to spend hours to discover? – does the reader give a shit what happens to him?

Emotional honesty
Does this cut deep? What am I avoiding? What should I really be writing about?

Metaphor and metonym – are they fresh? Do they serve a purpose beyond showing off? Do they defamiliarise or make tangible the otherwise ineffable?

Did I give cliché a wide berth? Also stock phrases (they're harder to spot). Have I fallen into elegant variation? (Don’t travel too far the alternative route!)

Readers’ rights
Do I tell them what they already know or can guess? Do I withhold information without good reason or for too long, especially in POV1.

The obvious
"Do you understand what he is saying to you?" (Buck Mulligan) You don’t have to spell it out straight away – make the buggers work. Jose Saramago – telling the reader things that are obviously untrue – a letter Richard Reis would never open.

Would she really think of her own leg as shapely?

Is it unique to the setting or the character, not just taking another drag on a cigarette. What does it reveal?

Passive constructions
Was there too much was? Can I make the construction active. There were trees along the roadside - trees stood guard along the road.

Categories of noun
Are they too abstract? According to John Braine, there are three categories of word: Freedom (bad), animal (fairly bad), dog (good), although labrador would presumably be better.

What happened to that minor character I introduced? Knead them back into the dough later as subplots that resolve before the main story.

Break any and all of the rules, so long as you know them. Anything goes, so long as it's deliberate. Not necessarily deliberate at the time of shitty first drafting, but consciously approved by the author at some point.

I'm sure you can think of a hundred others that I miss out when I'm editing. It's also worth saying, before someone makes the point, that the deconstruction is only for the blog. I'm striving for the stage when I simply read and know, no longer in need of lessons, intuitively taking account of everything in the world.


Rosy T said...

Great post, Rod - hardly anything to think about, then - piece of cake, really, isn't it?

(But - sorry for the sidetrack, but now I'm confused - how is 'there were trees along the road' the passive voice? The trees are the subject of the verb, not the object - it's the trees that 'were'. Seems like ordinary active voice to me...? But I can never grasp why some of the things people call 'passive' are passive...)

Geraldine Ryan said...

Rosy, you're right. This isn't a passive construction, but it is a boring verb, as Roderick discovers and changes for the second, much more suggestive "stood guard".

That blip aside, I loved this post. Every single thing can be related to t he serial episode I'm writing right now, s o will be printing this off and applying it to the WIP.

Helen Black said...

Yes, I think I should print this off and tack it somewhere near to my PC.
Thanks, Rod.
HB x

K M Kelly said...

Excellent list - and very timely as that's just the stage I'm at!!

Brian Keaney said...

Spot on!

Julie P said...

Phew, Rod! I need to go and have a lie down now after reading all that. Great post though and very relevant and informative.

Although a lot of by writer's brainis fighting to switch a lot of my editing brain off at the moment as I'm attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time! But I will need to go back through your list in December when I'm editing it!


Susie Nott-Bower said...

GAH, Rod - but yes, I'm going to print it out too...

Jenzarina said...

This reminded me so much of the old story of Stone Soup

if you don't know it!

It's just a simple soup made from a stone and some water... with just a little carrot, parsnip, chicken, herbs, potato, etc for flavouring. Easy!

Fionnuala said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fionnuala said...

What I meant to say is like Geri and all the others, I too am going to print this off. Fabulous post Rod.

Caroline Green said...

Wow, Rod...this is so helpful!
I think you should set yourself up as a CW teacher forthwith.

[I think you'd look very fetching with some leather elbow patches.]

Seriously though - thanks for this useful list.

Anonymous said...

Great tips. Definitely worth reading and saving for later.

Anonymous said...

On sickening pet words... check out my blog to see a list of "Banned Words" and some of their stronger counterparts.


Great post. Things to keep in mind.

Simon Kewin said...

Yes, marvellous post. Definitely a list to keep to hand ...

Anonymous said...

Great post.
Some food for thought.


emma darwin said...

Great list, Rod!


Anonymous said...

"Would she really think of her own leg as shapely?"
thank you, thank you! I've been doing a lot of critiquing lately and was beginning to think I was being too picky. But the answer is NO!she would not!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Oh, I don't know. It depends in what context. Women often stand in front of the mirror examining their flaws and positive bits. Don't they? Er, okay, I'll get me figure-flattering coat.

Roderic Vincent said...

Yes, there could be contexts where this is okay, within character and POV, but when I spotted that example in a friend's chapter it said more about his feelings about his character than hers.

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