1. Laverick
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    Laverick Member

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    Editor's Advice to Writers

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Laverick, Jul 7, 2009.

    I found a neat little "editor's secrets" page. Five tips to help improve your writing. Written by a copy editor, it applies to editing as well. I thought this would be good for the review section.


    CLICK
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    My only major disagreement with that article is that when "prescient" is the most precise word, I am damn well going to use it.
     
  3. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    That's good information, but I don't understand the "cut out words" part???

    I understand being concise, but that seems a bit excessive to me, especially when writing a novel. I can understand that rule for writing a technical guide.

    The "summer months" one is most agitating.

    How about; "The summer months crawled by like years." - it's poetic. Just saying "Summer crawled by like years" doesn't make any sense...

    I think that editor has trouble conveying exactly what she means...
     
  4. Laverick
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    It means don't be redundant. And don't purple prose. Don't make your writing gaudy to the point it distracts from the message/story.

    In the case of a poem, "the summer months crawled by like years" is poetic, but if this is how a story starts would you read it? I wouldn't. It sounds to me as if the story is going to be long and boring. I wouldn't take the fix she did either. I would completely omit or change the sentence to sound less like it's going to drag on. You don't want to scare away readers and, even if you add description to the flow, you still want it to feel fast paced. The reader should experience the writing in "real time".
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'd read it....actually I think it makes a pretty good starting line. Its nowhere near being overly descriptive, and it sets the tone and pace pretty well. It doesn't sound like its going to "drag on" at all - just because that's what's happening in the text, doesn't mean that the plot or anything is going to drag. Although, given your response to that little sentence, I don't think our tastes in writing would be very similar. Just because a sentence doesn't cater to the ADD crowd, doesn't mean it doesn't work.
     
  6. Laverick
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    It's a matter of taste and preference. You don't need to be offended.

    If that were the first sentence I read in a book, I would assume it was a story about a long summer. Because I don't care for stories about long summers I would not read it.

    Middlesex begins, "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1947."
    And that's exactly what the book is about. There's a ton of history, explaining and all for the effort of a "coming of age" story.

    Catcher in the Rye begins, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
    That's pretty much how the rest of the book is. It's not about anything exactly. It's just Holden retelling the last two days, the way he would tell the last two days.

    Those are two examples of stories retold in first person. Stories like Animal Farm and The Brave New World start with settings and get into the action fairly quickly. The catchy thing about them is that they both start with unorthodox settings. Catch-22 starts off bluntly and almost absurdly. Even though they don't all have a memoir thesis, they start with hints of what is to come.

    Entertainment/genre fiction tends to start out more promptly and with the shorter sentences.
    Prey by Michael Crichton, "Things never turn out the way you think they will."
    It's abrupt and meant to be a hook. Sphere, also by Crichton, start on the setting and is in third person.
    I do like how Artemis Fowl begins and that's in the summer. I think the first paragraph in Artemis Fowl, isn't as long as the first sentence in Catcher in the Rye.
     
  7. vinay87
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    Those remind me of the set of rules you can find in "The Elements of Style" (Strunk and White). "Omit needless words". Harder to do by far compared to the rest, though I was surprised at how much I've been using the passive voice in my writing.
     
  8. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I would never start a story with something as vague as "The summer months crawled by like years." I would, however, use it perhaps at the beginning of chapter where I'm about to introduce the next plot element:

    This "formula" is about exactly how I write.

    I can't remember which article it was, but someone said "A sentence can do one thing, a paragraph can do one thing." I found that I already do this to an extent, and that it applies to chapters and even entire stories. However, it is the mass of singular things which add up to a rich story.
     
  9. ILLZ
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    I didn't know that "a lot" and "all right" can never be "alot" and "alright". Good stuff.

    EDIT:

    I did just find this on Merriam-Webster.com:

    "The one-word spelling alright appeared some 75 years after all right itself had reappeared from a 400-year-long absence. Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing <the first two years of medical school were alright — Gertrude Stein>."

    So is that technically acceptable contrary to what this article insists?
     
  10. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I'm terrible about contractions. I'm going to have to go back over my entire work to make sure I've used the right ones - or none at all.

    I am terrible about contractions. I am going to have to go back over my entire work to make sure I have used the right ones - or none at all.

    Well, the first version certainly reads more naturally...
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    wow, I never knew alright was wrong.....I don't think I've ever written it "all right" actually....not that I write alright often anyway...
     
  12. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I have to say that I think this falls under the category of "It depends on how you use it."

    If that's what your character would say, than dog-gone-it have him say it!
     
  13. neags23
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    neags23 New Member

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    I thought it was a little ironic that in a conversation about omitting superfluous words, you wrote a passage that contains four words that don't need to be there. Your passage would be more concise and read better as:

    You might say it's just a matter of preference, but sometimes a reader can be annoyed by unnecessary words and the clutter that ( ;) ) they cause.
     
  14. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Allow me to moderate myself and say, simply, I disagree with that assessment :)
     
  15. neags23
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    No need to moderate yourself. What do you disagree with? That the words are useless or that useless words should be removed? Or that it's ironic ;) ?

    Do you really think the version with the extra "of" and "that" reads better than the version without?
     
  16. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Well, if you insist...

    The version that you suggested feels flat and empty to me.

    "out at the lake" promotes more imagery (in my head at least) - though I can understand removing that one.

    "daily routine" carries the connotation of day to day life, which speaks to the comfort and familiarity aspect later in the sentence.

    "the day that Tommy" - without that it simply doesn't read like english to me. It seems like something is missing. Maybe that's just the way that I speak and subsequently the way that I write. I also try to be as specific as possible in my writing because it is supremely annoying when an author isn't specific in some ways.

    "all of her classmates" - again, this seems like proper english to write this way rather than "all her classmates". When I read the latter, I can't help but think that a hillbilly wrote it. Again, that could be just the way that I speak, and the way that I've learned that other people speak.

    For instance, in every day life, I would say something like "All of my friends like me."

    However, in the true South (where I grew up) someone might say "All my friends like me."

    To me, it just seems primitive to write it the second way.

    Not that I'm a snob 'er nothin', I just like people to think I'm sophisticated.
     
  17. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    Otherwise redundant words can help the rhythm of the sentence, which can be just as important in developing an engaging style.
     
  18. neags23
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    neags23 New Member

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    If this is simply your opinion, then some guy on an internet forum isn't going to change your mind. I won't argue the point by giving my own 'opinion'. I will however, quote a few opinions that have greater weight than mine.

    If you can take a word out of a sentence or a phrase and have it mean the exact same thing, then the word should be removed.

    With regards to "All of her" vs. "All her", according to perfectyourenglish.com:

    If both are grammatically correct, you are able remove the word "of" and have the same meaning.

    Funny, though, I am from the South. Whether that has anything to do with anything, I'm not sure. I don't particularly remember my Southern friends removing "of" nor my Midwestern friends (I live in Chicago, now) adding it back in.

    Again, if this is simply your opinion, I won't be able to change it. But it does go directly against stylistic standards. In prose, anyway. Dialogue is another story. People talk funny. Be redundant all you want. In prose, redundancy is bad.
     
  19. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Something occurred to me - if the content of your characters and story is decent, I doubt that such subtleties are entirely important. Still it is interesting - since both are grammatically correct, why is it such a big deal?
     
  20. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    Standards are just that - standards. Just guidelines, not commandments written in stone (though they weren't amazingly effective at enforcing compliance either...)

    It will often be true that chopping out meaning-redundant words will improve the sentence, but there will also be cases where it would flow better with a couple of extra beats. I don't think it's something where you can say 'this is bad in all cases' - if nothing else, everyone's going to have their own opinion on how a sentence reads best.
     
  21. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    This is why I'm going to re-read everything that I've written to make sure that it "sounds" write to a reader. I make so many mistakes when I "get into it" anyways - I transpose entire words without realizing it!

    Also - I've noticed that there are different levels of comprehension. I actually found a website on the subject.

    This website is similar: http://academic.cuesta.edu/acasupp/AS/303.HTM

    Einstein said that "If you truly understand something, you can explain it to your grandmother."

    I feel like I have a consummate understanding of communication as I have the ability to explain nearly anything to almost anyone. Therefore, instead of just memorizing rules for writing - I can read what I have written and gauge whether or not it will achieve what I want to convey.

    On a separate note - this sort of thing is a huge problem in medicine and science. Many scientists are terrible at conveying ideas because they assume that everyone has a similar point of reference. The same thing happens with doctors. So far as I understand it, this communication breakdown occurs because these people are simply reciting from memory. If they truly understood what it was that they were trying to explain, then they should have the ability to speak it plainly.

    The whole point of this spiel is that rules for the sake of rules is a bad idea.
     
  22. Sharajj
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    I hope it's ok to bump an old thread :eek:

    I think those were great tips but that is all they are ... tips. They aren't rules that have to be followed in order to make all writing great and not all great writing follows that rules. It is important to try to be aware of the passive voice as well as unnecessary/redundant words. Especially when you are new to writing and are trying to sell yourself.

    One of my old editors hated the word 'very' which was 'very' overused. She used to say 'What is very? Does very actually add anything the story?" Does very actually add anything to a story? Is there a difference between "She was mad" and "She was very mad?" If it's meant to describe how incredibly mad she was aren't there better descriptive words? Pretty much any word would be a better description. lol

    I think we all have our weaknesses and it's important to find them, become aware of them and then go back and decide if they really are critical in telling the story.
     
  23. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I agree. I am about to begin my first revision of my first novel and if something doesn't feel right then I will change it. Otherwise, if it looks good and feels good, why change it?
     
  24. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    ermm... I see what you did there. lol
     
  25. Fox Favinger
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    After I started reading Hemingway I found myself cutting down my sentences a lot and trying to emulate that level of clarity. It does help to make things less redundant when you cut things out. Always think about your target audience, not you.

    Also to alot is to hand out or distribute something. that is what I was taught.

    I like number 2. Long paragraphs work fine in novels, but online long paragraphs tend to blur together and aren't easy on the eyes. Even though I never agree with their opinions, I love the way Gamespot.com writes their reviews. They are so clear and precise, but their paragraphs are long! I am just as guilty of this. Because we have to give such detail to every aspect in a well written review, it's really hard to find a way to break things up. I am still trying to figure this on out for reviews. Any advice would be great.

    All and all I totally agree with this article. If you want to sell then yeah there are some basic guidelines. Adding a bunch of words to try and be more descriptive never helps, since a sentence should be a single detail.
     

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