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pilot27407
04-21-2008, 10:37 PM
OK, let’s try this for a topic.
I know what a good novel is supposed to be like.
A good plot, fresh as possible, that hooks you from the start and keeps you reading.
Expressive characters that come to life, not over and definitely not under developed.
A strong, expressive, dialog, which used the ‘proper’ language for the setting (if it’s set in 14th century Russia, don’t use ‘make tracks dude’ or ‘give me five man’).
A constant flow of the story, with no ‘holes’ to confuse the reader.
Good wordsmithing without becoming too pretentious.
And, keep it under 100,000 words (in consideration for the publisher’s expenses).
I also know what you’re not supposed to do.
Don’t just babble around for page after page of meaningless narration.
Don’t tire the reader with lengthy descriptions, historical data, senseless ‘chatter’ or confusing issues.
Did I forget anything?
I’m sure I did. So, feel free to fill in.
Now, let’s get to the point of this thread.
I’m, what you may call, an over-writer. I tend to do exactly what I’m not supposed to.
I get into lengthy and strenuous narration, which doesn’t help the story an iota. I’ll ramble aimlessly around, throw in hundreds of words worth of historical information (like the reader is stupid and doesn’t know who Saddam is), and end up with 140,000 words novel.
I try for a concise story and end up with a drawn out one. I say to myself, don’t worry, I’ll trim it down when I’ll edit, but don’t have the heart to delete my own ‘babies’.
Anyone cares to jump in and offer suggestions?
How do you achieve the perfect blend? How do you streamline the story?

For those, who want to see what I’m talking about, please go to Share Your Work, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense and look up ONE HUNDRED HOURS.

Will Lavender
04-21-2008, 10:43 PM
I read a lot of novels and pay attention to how other writers do it.

Calla Lily
04-21-2008, 10:49 PM
pilot, I skimmed your excerpt in SYW, and I see what you mean.

Here's the bad news: You have to learn to kill your darlings.

Here's the good news: Killing your darlings 99% of the time improves the book.

It takes time and study and help from other critiquers. But in the end, you must learn to edit yourself. It can be done!

pilot27407
04-21-2008, 10:51 PM
I also read a lot, thousands of books so far. And I can see where another author is loosing me with senseless narration. I guess it’s easy to see some one else’s faults but hard to accept your own.
Would I be asking too much, Lily, for you to go back and show me with a red pen. I’m a great, by example, learner.

jennontheisland
04-21-2008, 10:55 PM
It is tough to see your own mistakes.

My CP would point my errors out to me and I'd still make them. It wasn't until I found myself catching the same errors in her work that I was able to avoid them in mine. Critiquing other people's work can be a great learning tool.

CaroGirl
04-21-2008, 11:05 PM
For information about killing your darlings, see Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

If a scene doesn't work, take it out. Why wouldn't you? Recognizing what doesn't work in your own writing takes time, experience and perspective, but it's a skill all writers need to develop.

icerose
04-21-2008, 11:20 PM
Enlist help. Get an outside person to do a page or two for you, killing the excess. Then rewrite it in a separate document, taking out everything they said to take out.

Then let it sit, for a good week or two.

Come back with a fresh perspective and read the revised one first. Then read the original. It is painful, it is a slow process, but it can help you see what is necessary and what is actually hurting your story.

Make sure that person is compatible, helpful, and fits your needs.

Good luck.

ETA. I'm kind of the oposite, I tend to streamline my first drafts and usally end up falling short and have to add more subplots.

Calla Lily
04-21-2008, 11:22 PM
Would I be asking too much, Lily, for you to go back and show me with a red pen. Iím a great, by example, learner.

I'll get to it by tomorrow.

pilot27407
04-21-2008, 11:25 PM
Let’s get together icerose and write the perfect book… LOL

pilot27407
04-21-2008, 11:26 PM
THANKS Lily.

Mr Flibble
04-21-2008, 11:38 PM
you need to trim 40k? Pfft.

Seriously, I had to almost halve my MS because I got carried away. Start off with each chapter. Is it essential to the story, or the readers understanding of it? Then each scene, each paragraph, down to each sentence.

If you take that bit of history lesson out, will your reader still understand what is going on? Chuck it.

Is there a way of saying the same thing in less words? Rephrase. Do you have my personal tic of saying the same thing twice in two different ways? Take the least powerful one out.

If you have one scene that shows character development and another that develops the plot, can you combine them? Can two minor characters be merged?

Killing your darlings is painful to start with. Save them to a seperate file is you like, and tell yourself you can use that awesome phrasing / evocative description in another WIP. The benefit is...it will make your book better. Which is payment for the mangled mess it made of my brain.

Bubastes
04-22-2008, 12:38 AM
I am also an over-writer. You've already received the correct advice: kill your darlings. It WILL make your manuscript better, and once you do it, you'll wonder what took you so long. My final drafts run about 25% shorter than my first drafts. Shoot for 10% cuts on the first pass, then keep on going.

By the way, cutting and revising is my favorite part of the writing process. I think of it as liposuction for my manuscript. Sucking the fat out of my writing turns it from flabby to faaaaaaaabulous.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 12:48 AM
So, Meow, if you like cutting, please try... you'll find the first chapter on Share Your Work. I would really appreciate it... Thanks

JoNightshade
04-22-2008, 12:58 AM
Write what you want. Do the full 140K. Then save it. Put it on CD or print it out or whatever.

Now copy your document and name it something else. "Draft 2" or whatever.

Go through Draft 2 and CUT EVERYTHING you possibly can. Don't worry about losing it, because if it needs to go back you always have your earlier draft.

See? You don't actually have to kill your darlings. Just put them in a little keepsake box. :)

maestrowork
04-22-2008, 01:03 AM
Write what you want.


Then during rewrite, read it as if someone else wrote it, and trim and cut and prune and kill like a motherf-----. Seriously, kill your babies. And if you're not sure exactly, enlist some good betas who will tell you what sucks.

Bubastes
04-22-2008, 01:07 AM
Side note to pilot: you may want to make the font bigger on your posts here at AW.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 01:14 AM
I can do that, no problem, with someone else’s work, harder with mine. For you see, I know the full story and it seams to me that everything has (and here we go) ‘more or less’ something to do with what happens later on in the plot. Naturally, and I know that, the reader, by the time he gets there, already forgot that passage.
That’s why, I’m asking you all to go to that first chapter and show me what you’ll scrap.
I learn much better, and faster, from example.

Most of you’re saying ‘write everything and trim later’, but a few advocate the different approach, ‘sketch out the plot and fill the holes later’. What’s more efficient?

KTC
04-22-2008, 01:18 AM
I edited a SciFi novel last fall. It was 170,000 words long when it was handed to me. I used a sword to kill the writer's darlings. Having said that, it was extremely easy to kill those darlings. Not so easy to kill my own. It is hard to step outside your work and see it with an editor's eye. Have you let it settle for a while. I like to put mine in a 'drawer' for about 6 months or so, if I'm able, before taking out the 'red pen'.

And I think it may be better to ask 1 person to help you first. Otherwise, you may get a crapload of advice all different that you will have a hard time following all at once. Find a beta or a critique partner.

JimmyB27
04-22-2008, 01:21 AM
Write what you want. Do the full 140K. Then save it. Put it on CD or print it out or whatever.

Now copy your document and name it something else. "Draft 2" or whatever.

Go through Draft 2 and CUT EVERYTHING you possibly can. Don't worry about losing it, because if it needs to go back you always have your earlier draft.

See? You don't actually have to kill your darlings. Just put them in a little keepsake box. :)
This is what I was going to say. You never know, you may find your darlings a new home in a later WiP.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 01:22 AM
I’ve been trying Meow,… but, for whatever reason, when I hit ‘post’, it jumps into this small, hard to read, font…. Drives me nuts too.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 01:25 AM
And where and how do I find a beta or critique partner KTC?
Do I hear any offers?

Bubastes
04-22-2008, 01:31 AM
Most of youíre saying Ďwrite everything and trim laterí, but a few advocate the different approach, Ďsketch out the plot and fill the holes laterí. Whatís more efficient?

I'm not sure which is more efficient, but here's something I've found: even though I trim the words, they're still "there" in the story, like an iceberg. It's almost as if the act of writing those words adds depth to the story even though I eventually take them out. Does that make any sense?

JamieFord
04-22-2008, 01:41 AM
Just skimmed it as well.

It's not just a "kill your babies" situation. Take a deep breath and step away from it. Then go back and try and write one scene (it can be a small one) from one characters tight POV. Restrict the amount you put on the page to only what that character knows. Don't let that chatty narrator person take over. See if you can make one scene work in a minimal way. If you can't, pull the narration out a little wider, but don't start so wide and drill down because you end up backfilling along the way and that sloooooowwws down the narration.

Or, if that seems like too much work, go read a couple of Hemingway's short stories. Especially the ones which are minimal--where the gist of the story comes through in dialog and in very subtle narration.

Just a few thoughts.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 01:41 AM
I’m following you Meow, because the story is ours, in our heads, and will stay there regardless of the words we take out. But, could the reader still understand our full message if we delete 20% of the words which make up the story?

JeanneTGC
04-22-2008, 01:51 AM
Iím following you Meow, because the story is ours, in our heads, and will stay there regardless of the words we take out. But, could the reader still understand our full message if we delete 20% of the words which make up the story?
In most cases of bloat, yes.

I just cut 20K words out of my fantasy novel. It was hell, mostly because I had to edit over and over again, because I'd catch some stuff first time, but miss others, go back, catch some still miss others, etc.

It was worth it, however. And you know what? I can guarantee no one will miss those 20K words, myself included. They didn't do what I thought they did originally -- move the story forward, expand character development, add depth. They merely turned a good story into a snoozefest. And, amazingly enough, the last beta who read it, who had never seen the story in any form at all other than this final, had no issues with comprehending what was going on.

BTW, in answer to one of your questions earlier, where you asked what was more efficient -- write it and then cut, or, essentially, outline -- the answer is "whatever works best for you". Everyone's different. What works well for one doesn't necessarily guarantee success for another. The beauty is that we can just keep on doing it until we get it right. :D

Dale Emery
04-22-2008, 01:57 AM
I’m, what you may call, an over-writer.

That is clear from your initial post: Sixty percent of the way through the post, you finally get to the point.

So let's use your initial post as an example of over-writing, and work from that.

What led you to write all of the stuff before "I'm, what you may call, an over-writer"?

The line before "I'm an over-writer" says "Now, let’s get to the point of this thread." Clearly you knew that everything you had written earlier was something other than the point. So: what led you to include the earlier stuff in the post rather than deleting it?

Dale

Bubastes
04-22-2008, 02:02 AM
I’m following you Meow, because the story is ours, in our heads, and will stay there regardless of the words we take out. But, could the reader still understand our full message if we delete 20% of the words which make up the story?

YES. In fact, the reader will understand it better because he/she doesn't have to swim through all that blubber to get to it.

By the way, I have a sieve brain, so the story doesn't really stay in my head. That's probably why I'm so fast at revisions: I don't need to set the story aside to get fresh eyes because I forget the story as soon as I write it anyway. It's weird, but it works.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 02:20 AM
Lucky you Meow, wish I could.

And to answer your question Dale, background info.
I know what’s supposed to include and what not, for I’m strong in theory.
Practice kills me… LOL
Wrote thousands of reports and analyses, short and to the point. But those were political and historical data. Fiction is another ball.
Wish you’ll go to that chapter and take a red pen to it.

JoNightshade
04-22-2008, 02:22 AM
What Dale said above. Are you a teacher or something? Because most of your posts feel like a lecture. The reader is not a student. Here's a suggestion: Pretend the reader is every bit as intelligent as you, if not more so. Because odds are, they are. And if they aren't, they still want to be treated that way. Also, pretend they're your friend. You like them. You can be casual, use verbal shorthand.



OK, letís try this for a topic.
I know what a good novel is supposed to be like.
A good plot, fresh as possible, that hooks you from the start and keeps you reading.
Expressive characters that come to life, not over and definitely not under developed.
A strong, expressive, dialog, which used the Ďproperí language for the setting (if itís set in 14th century Russia, donít use Ďmake tracks dudeí or Ďgive me five maní).
A constant flow of the story, with no Ďholesí to confuse the reader.
Good wordsmithing without becoming too pretentious.
And, keep it under 100,000 words (in consideration for the publisherís expenses).
I also know what youíre not supposed to do.
Donít just babble around for page after page of meaningless narration.
Donít tire the reader with lengthy descriptions, historical data, senseless Ďchatterí or confusing issues.
Did I forget anything?
Iím sure I did. So, feel free to fill in.
Now, letís get to the point of this thread.
I literally skimmed past all of this; I still have no clue what you said because I didn't bother to read it. The point is, if you said something that was actually important, I've missed it. Readers will do the same with your book.
Iím, what you may call, an over-writer. I tend to do exactly what Iím not supposed to. Even here, you're still over-writing, over-explaining. I pretty much got the point with the first sentence.
I get into lengthy and strenuous narration, which doesnít help the story an iota. Iíll ramble aimlessly around, throw in hundreds of words worth of historical information (like the reader is stupid and doesnít know who Saddam is), and end up with 140,000 words novel.
I try for a concise story and end up with a drawn out one. I say to myself, donít worry, Iíll trim it down when Iíll edit, but donít have the heart to delete my own Ďbabiesí.
Anyone cares to jump in and offer suggestions?
How do you achieve the perfect blend? How do you streamline the story?

For those, who want to see what Iím talking about, please go to Share Your Work, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense and look up ONE HUNDRED HOURS.
Might want to just include a link to your Share Your Work post in your signature rather than plugging it at the bottom of your post; the way you've done it makes it seem like this entire thread exists to get people to critique your story.

Incidentally, the problem with your posts is not a font-size problem. You're using Times New Roman, which is smaller at font size 2, while everyone else is using Verdana. Can you switch that?

JoNightshade
04-22-2008, 02:26 AM
Wish youíll go to that chapter and take a red pen to it.

This is not going to help you. Go do it yourself. Post the results. We'll tell you how you did. You need to learn to do this on your own.

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 02:36 AM
Thanks Jo... I see what you did. And yes, I'll try Verdana.

Dale Emery
04-22-2008, 02:56 AM
And to answer your question Dale, background info.

Thanks, that's helps me to understand what you're trying to do.

As I read your post, the first thing I notice is that the background information isn't necessary for me to understand your question. The second thing I notice is that it doesn't help me understand your question. The third thing is that it actually gets in my way. It's stuff I have to read through, then toss out. It wastes my time before your post comes to the point.

So here's my advice: Whenever you've written something to provide background info, delete it.

If you're over-writing, then the background information you include in the first draft is almost surely unnecessary. It probably isn't helpful. And there's a good chance that it is interfering with the reader enjoying or even understanding your story.

Every now and then, deleting will be the wrong thing to do, because the background information is necessary for the reader. My guess is that that will be rare for you, and that 90 percent of the time cutting is not only safe but beneficial.

One way to play with this is to use the Goldilocks technique... too much, too little, just right. But we'll use four bears instead of three:

Version 1: Write a scene or chapter the way you normally do.

Version 2: Make it worse. Write it again, overwriting it even more than you normally do.

Version 3: Take version 1 and cut every bit of background that isn't necessary.

Version 4: Take version 3 and cut every single bit of background, even the necessary stuff.

Keep copies of each.

Give version 4 to a good beta reader, and ask for feedback. Specifically, ask for places where the reader didn't have enough information to understand what was happening. Note your reaction to the feedback.

Dale

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 03:54 AM
So, how much background info is too much?

Namatu
04-22-2008, 03:56 AM
How to muffle the angst of killing your babies:

Save your scene/chapter/manuscript as a new file. Now whip out the machete. Nothing you delete in this file can be lost. Nothing can't be undone. You've got your original file safe somewhere else.

Approach each scene with its purpose clear in your mind. In one sentence, what is that scene supposed to accomplish? Now read the scene and assess which parts of it propel the scene forward to its purpose and which parts don't. Cut everything that doesn't.

When you're done with all the cutting and have polished it, step away. Take time to get some distance. Then read the uncut and the cut versions and see which you prefer, but do not cling to those babies.

Sometimes you need the babies for your own personal knowledge. It contributes to character or story knowledge that you need to know and can enrich the story's undertones, but the reader doesn't suffer for not knowing it.

I have no problem killing my babies, but I once worked with a co-author who couldn't bare to let anything from the first draft go. It took a lot of the above process to get things changed, but in the end we were both more satisfied with the results. You'll always have nostalgia!

pilot27407
04-22-2008, 04:11 AM
I read books with intensive description. A picture was built with words and, while I can’t recollect the actual ones used, the picture is still vivid in my mind. The story developed gradually into the plot and maintained a leisurely pace. I like that, for it’s a real life setting. On the other hand, you have some of today’s fiction, which plunges into the action from the first line. It keeps an unnatural pace of high grade action and it’s unreal.

JeanneTGC
04-22-2008, 06:37 AM
I read books with intensive description. A picture was built with words and, while I canít recollect the actual ones used, the picture is still vivid in my mind. The story developed gradually into the plot and maintained a leisurely pace. I like that, for itís a real life setting. On the other hand, you have some of todayís fiction, which plunges into the action from the first line. It keeps an unnatural pace of high grade action and itís unreal.
And the key phrase in that paragraph is "Today's fiction". I happen to love Charles Dickens. However, he'd be judiciously edited if he wanted to be published today. Tastes and trends change. Maybe readers will go back to the big, meaty descriptions and the long, involved passages that don't move the story forward.

However, agents and editors know what they're looking for. And unless they're looking for throwbacks to the "golden age" of literature (and perhaps someone is, you never, ever know for sure), then they're going to look at your excess and say, "not for us".

Really, learn to kill your darlings. Dale's suggestion from a few posts ago is really an excellent one and you'll learn a lot by doing it. So...just do it. (BTW, Nike built an EMPIRE on those three short simple words...)

Will Lavender
04-22-2008, 06:48 AM
And the key phrase in that paragraph is "Today's fiction". I happen to love Charles Dickens. However, he'd be judiciously edited if he wanted to be published today. Tastes and trends change. Maybe readers will go back to the big, meaty descriptions and the long, involved passages that don't move the story forward.

However, agents and editors know what they're looking for. And unless they're looking for throwbacks to the "golden age" of literature (and perhaps someone is, you never, ever know for sure), then they're going to look at your excess and say, "not for us".

Really, learn to kill your darlings. Dale's suggestion from a few posts ago is really an excellent one and you'll learn a lot by doing it. So...just do it. (BTW, Nike built an EMPIRE on those three short simple words...)

Dickens knew what to describe, though. He knew what to give weight and what to leave out. He knew what was relevant to his story and what wasn't.

All "describers" (for lack of a better word) are not created equal.

A lot of novice writers don't describe for the beauty of description. It has nothing to do with their love of the language or their breadth of knowledge -- although they would probably tell you otherwise. They describe because they have no clear idea of what's interesting or what the reader wants. And a lot of times, they have no clear idea where the center of their story actually is.

It's a common flaw: tossing a lot of stuff at the wall in the hope that something sticks.

Soccer Mom
04-22-2008, 06:53 AM
I read books with intensive description. A picture was built with words and, while I canít recollect the actual ones used, the picture is still vivid in my mind. The story developed gradually into the plot and maintained a leisurely pace.

The words should be invisible. It's about the story. Honestly, unnecessary verbage can kill the story. I can think of a few exceptions, such as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but they are exeptions. The writing would have to be really, really good.

Dale Emery
04-22-2008, 07:21 AM
So, how much background info is too much?

I want to shift the question to: Which bits of background will I include in my story?

I don't think the question of "how much background info" is answerable. To me, questions of balance or of "how much" are often unresolvable, because balance is usually not the issue.

Instead the issue is effect.

For each bit of background information, ask: What are the effects of including this particular detail in the story? What would be the effects of leaving this detail out? And -- most importantly -- Which effects do I want?

Every paragraph, every sentence, every word in a novel serves some purpose or purposes. Much of the time, it's probably okay for an author to decide these things by intuition.

But when there's a problem, that's a good time to become more conscious of the choices you're making. That's the time to focus on What effect am I trying to create in the reader? and What effect are my words actually creating?

For you, the challenge is background information. I recommend carefully scrutinizing each detail of background information, and testing it against the standard of what effect you want to create.

For example, one effect I want is to motivate the important actions and decisions of the characters. So that suggests a test I can use for a given detail: Does this specific detail affect a character's decisions or actions? If so, include that detail at the moment of decision. If not, cut it.

There are probably other effects and tests I use, but I gotta go for now. If I think of more, I'll post those too.

Dale

dreamsofnever
04-22-2008, 08:40 AM
ETA. I'm kind of the oposite, I tend to streamline my first drafts and usally end up falling short and have to add more subplots.

Me too! And the trouble is, I'm more than willing to edit things out. I have no problem being ruthless with my babies. But when it comes to filling in the story and fleshing it out, expanding it (and upping the word count), now that's where I suffer.

As for advice for you, pilot: Be ruthless. Remember that you have to prune the dead and decaying branches for the tree to flourish.

It's also really important to give yourself time between finishing the manuscript and editing. At least a month, but sometimes longer. The longer you wait, the easier it is to go back and look at it with an impartial eye.

chevbrock
04-22-2008, 04:27 PM
Pilot, the way I see it, you have to first of all stop looking at your story as "your baby".

No one likes to hurt babies. (well, I am assuming, no one here, anyway).

Look at your novel as a 140 000 kilo man. He puffs like a steam train just getting up a short flight of stairs. He can't run. He plods along.

Your job is as the trainer. You have to turn that flabby, overbearing man into a sleek, well-muscled, supercharged being who has no trouble running all the way through your story.

Momento Mori
04-22-2008, 06:13 PM
I'm not sure whether any of the other posters have said this already, but I find that time is the biggest help in knowing which babies to slaughter. I tend to leave my chapters/manuscript alone for a good few weeks and go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes and I also pretend that it's a manuscript that's been given to me by a friend and I'm reading it for the first time.

I also find that it's a lot easier to be ruthless when the manuscript is printed out onto paper, two pages to a sheet of A4 (i.e. so it looks like you've got a book in front of you). If I'm reading something that doesn't make me want to turn the page, then it probably needs cutting.

MM

Calla Lily
04-22-2008, 09:25 PM
My comments are in SYW, pilot.

eveningstar
04-22-2008, 09:33 PM
As a relatively new writer, I think "kill your darlings" is the best lesson I've learned so far.

In my WIP I had a scene that, in the first draft, I felt was perfect and wonderful exemplified the tone of the piece. Had you told me then that it wouldn't make the final cut I would have laughed.

I'm mid-way through draft two now. That perfect, wonderful scene is gone, because I've made changes elsewhere and it no longer works as well as it did. But the finished product will be a better story without it.

Polenth
04-23-2008, 12:09 AM
Iíve been trying Meow,Ö but, for whatever reason, when I hit Ďpostí, it jumps into this small, hard to read, fontÖ. Drives me nuts too.

Are you copy/pasting from a word processor? I've noticed the font and size carries over. My solution is to copy/paste it into notepad first. Then I copy it from notepad into the forum. That removes all formatting, and makes the forum post it at default size.

seun
04-23-2008, 09:46 PM
I'll add my support to the kill your darlings thought. In fact, stomp on them and then dance on their graves while singing a happy tune.