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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Proverbial Dead Horse

Have you ever been accused of beating a dead horse inside a narrative?

Most of us have at some point in our careers.

It happens most often when we're not sure we got our point across the first time. I imagine we are rarely aware of our transgressions or we wouldn't have repeated our points, but good critters usually pick it up.

How do you recognize regurgitation?

This is where your editing skills come to the forefront. I think it's better to be an excellent editor with a decent base story than a good writer with poor editing skills because someone with exceptional rewriting skills can transform a novel, while a fair writer who is in love with his/her words will always run in place.

I've talked about how I edit in past posts, and I might revisit that again in the future. One of my CPs is a heck of a rewriter. I would love it if she discussed how she edits her novels on her blog. (Hint, hint, Daw.)

Anyway, the first step to identifying reruns is reading your work with fresh eyes. My favorite trick is to read isolated scenes out of order.

If I isolate the scenes, I can distinguish (even with my pathetic memory) whether it's a topic that's been brought up before--or after. Sometimes the description is better in a later scene--no doubt, my brain had come up with better ways to say the same thing. But sometimes it's just a hammer blow on pudding, throwing up the same dialog/narrative with no impact on strengthening the story.

If I said it better later, I expunge that scene from where it was and transfer some of the juicier bits to where I first introduced the topic.

Case in point:
In my current wip, I have a scene where we learn a nineteen year old pirate is a virgin (unwilling to remain so, though she is). It's important I don't nag on that. I want to make it a point in the story, but not THE point. Since it's a historical, virginity is highly valued in that era, enforced by fathers and brothers and religion, but not always successfully--human nature being what it is.

I realized walking into this project that the subject of her chastity will come up from several pov characters so I have to pay particular attention that I'm not dredging up an equine corpse with my teeth.

When her virginity comes up, I have to make sure I'm saying something new about it each time. The reader learns she's a virgin in the first chapter. Move on. In a subsequent chapter, we learn she's remained a virgin not through force (like a chastity belt) but for other reasons. Again, I move on. In another chapter, I might mention that she's just as sexually needy as any other average teenager, though still mired in the mores of the day.

Tell the reader only what he needs to know. Tell him only once. You can reinforce the concept with corroborating information, but there's no need to retread that tire if it's already got some rubber on the ground.

Your horses will thank you.


Anonymous said...

OK, Maria. I tried to analyze what I do when I revise. Does it explain how I produce the changes you see or have I left something out?


Maria Zannini said...

You rock, Daw!