Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Five Things I've Learned in Five Years

I’m rewriting a novel I began in 2004. Originally, it took me three years to write all 102,409 words. Most of those were stupid words. I’m not saying that in the last five years I’ve gone from stupidity to witty cleverness. Not at all. But, I’ve learned a few things and I’m here to share. (The Rhyme’s Library is now at 81,000 words and shrinking.)

1. Use wordle. Don’t know what wordle is? It’s a website that creates word clouds out of any document—the more frequent the word usage, the bigger it appears in the cloud. This is an easy way to find your pet words. One of mine happens to be “look.” He looked, she looked, everybody looked. Try it out at

2. Don’t use words you don’t typically use in conversation. I actually stopped reading Elizabeth Peters novels because her frequent use of the word orb bothered me. Some words shouldn’t be used more than once and some not at all. Same with phrases. I read a friend’s novel where the lovers kept melting into each other. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds messy and really shouldn’t happen very often. If at all.

3. Watch out for passive sentences. The Rhyme’s Library is riddled with them. Example: the word COULD. Claris COULD hear a soft voice in the background—versus--Claris heard a soft voice in the background. Another example: the word FELT. Claris ran a finger along Alec’s glass of soda, and FELT the cold condensation wet her finger tips. Better-- Claris ran a finger along Alec’s soda glass--the cold condensation wet her finger tips. Example: the word WAS. The trip to the morgue WAS a trip she COULD make alone--OR--She’d go to the morgue alone.

4. Evaluate Criticism objectively. Since writing this story, I’ve been told the same thing by two industry professionals—my plots are too complicated. The first to tell me this was an editor for a small romance publishing company; the second was a reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly—the review was part of the “prize” for my placement in the Amazon Novel Breakthrough whatever. I live by the standard that I can swallow one critique with a sugar cube, but if someone else independently tells me the same thing I should probably take note. So, I’m reading my five year old manuscript and wondering--is this too complicated? Can I be less convoluted? Another thing I’ve been told by more than writerly person is my work is “very British.” Can you believe that two people who don’t know each other would actually use the words “very British?” I don’t even know what that means. Or what to do with it. Which brings me to number 5.

5. Love your work. It may have wrinkles, fat rolls, and zits, but ultimately, it is your story. It’s your baby. Love it enough to cut away its rough edges. Coax it into simplicity. Shave off unsightly adverbs. Love it enough to leave it in a five year time out. And if someone tells you your baby is very British tell them thank you very much.

1 comment:

  1. I never thought of your work as very British, but I could see that. I think that's a good thing. But then I'm a fan of all things British. Okay, maybe not their food.