Editing Tip #12

It’s in the Details

detailsHemingway was a master when it came to simple, straightforward prose.  He did not embellish, just told the story realistically.  That’s not to say he left out the important details.

Crisp and clean prose is difficult as best and is not the average writer’s style.

We tend to toss in lots of adverbs and flowery or high language – purple prose… even if we’re doing our best to follow the ‘no adverb’ rule (which I have yet to add my 2 cents worth about) we toss a few in here and there for a particular embellishment.

The thing about details and a first draft is that it’s easy to leave them out, especially if you’re a ‘vomit on the page’ or ‘diarrhea on the keyboard’ type drafter.  I am one of these – but I am also a plotter.  I like to build an overlying framework for my ideas before diving in… I need to set clear goals for my writing or I meander every-which-way (which also means more editing later).  That being said, even though I know my destination and several sight-seeing stops along the way, I don’t edit while I write.  If I do, I lose my train of thought and the inspiration leaves me.  However, what ends up on the page is a great rough structure that needs cutting down in the back story and beefing up in the details.

What details?

Well, we’ve been talking about building character, and adding depth and weight to setting and atmosphere.  In addition to these points I would include enhancing tension.  It’s easy to speed through dramatic moments of action or quiet moments of indecision – don’t leave your work here.  Analyze one chapter at a time and highlight those moments where you really want the reader to have an emotional connection: heart racing, tears brimming, spine shuddering, and breath holding (to name a few).

If you let these moments slip by, your reader’s mind won’t register them as ‘important.’

Now you need to decide if you will be speeding time up or slowing it down.  The basic rule of thumb rests with the number and length of your sentences.  The more short, action-oriented sentences you put together the faster time will move (just don’t over-do it… you still need to consider balancing your sentence lengths for the sake of the reader) .  The longer, more flowing sentences that look at simple concepts that we miss during the daily run of our lives (breathing, temperature, generation of saliva or lack thereof, eye flickering or blinking, and clocks ticking to name but a few), the slower time will feel.

One sentence is not enough.

You need to build an overall impression with multiple sentences.  The more detail you are able to provide (e.g. blo0d splatter, bladder expulsion, acrid scent) the more realistic that moment becomes.

Pick a scene and play around with it.  Speed it up, slow it down, alternate the rate for a roller-coaster effect (but not too wild or that will make your reader ill) and see how it works best.

This is a great tool for tweeting and blogging.

Rework a particular scene or moment 2 or 3 different ways and then let your followers comment on the one they like the best.  They are the ones buying your books after all 😉

Leave a comment and let me know how it works out for you.

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Categories: Editing

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