Editing Tip #7

A practical use for the idea of an oxymoron:

Jumbo ShrimpWe all know that an oxymoron means to place two contradictory terms together – like Jumbo-shrimp.  Now, take that concept a step farther and make it relevant to an idea…

A small, well-placed character note can turn into a big moment by the end of your manuscript.

If it’s viable, give one or two of your main characters a small habit (like nail biting), and use it to build toward something bigger – intrinsically connecting to one of the main or sub-plot elements.

Using the idea of nail biting, use the habit in an off-hand way at first.  Don’t get into the semantics of it, just have your main character give a gnaw when he’s thinking about something and have the narrator mention it in passing.  By the third or forth time he’s deep in thought, mulling over something important, give a bit more detail about the habit.  Maybe he likes to start on one edge of the nail and then worry it with his front teeth like a dog with a marrow bone.

Get used to mentioning that he bites the nail off or spits it away when he comes to a conclusion regarding his thoughts.  Then, right at a critical moment in the plot a couple of things can happen – he has no nails left to bite and he’s dealing with the biggest problem yet to be faced; the last nail breaks before he’s done thinking and there are no other nails to chew on; or let him continue to worry the same nail, allowing it to become thinner and thinner until it rips off and the reader is left wondering if he bit it off on purpose because he figured out what to do or if it was an accident and he’s in an even worse situation than before.

That one little habit, that meant next to nothing when the books started, grows to mean so much more about the situation and the character’s state of mind if cultivated in the right way.

It’s the building of the little things that rattle around in a reader’s subconscious that brings a third-dimension to our writing.

In my current manuscript, the female lead casually comments whenever the male lead is looking over his notes on their expedition.  The reader interprets these moments as character development, thinking that he is studying maps and reading tracings of an ancient tablet to make sure he and the female lead are headed in the right direction.

By the end of the manuscript, the female lead discovers that when she thought he was studying his notes, he was really sketching pictures of her.  This solidifies in her mind, and the reader’s mind, that he has suspected from the beginning that she is his lost soul mate – a revelation that scares the wits out of the female lead because it means that everything she thought she knew about herself has been a lie.

This is huge! and it all started with a casual observation.

Think about your main character(s)… are you able to develop a habit that appears innocent yet transcends the weight of the entire manuscript to aid in a significant revelation or moment near the end of your book?

Maybe you’ve already mentioned something that could be built upon.

Mull it over and give it a try – you may surprise yourself 🙂

Categories: Editing

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