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bear by san

March 2017

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rengeek superbard! _ strangepowers

almost got what i want. almost found what i lost.

Okay, to give you an idea of what I mean when I say I'm fussing prose, and the kind of fiddly revision that eats up so much time, here's how it works.

I start with a sentence like this:

Will sat picking at a supper of mutton and ale in the coolest corner of the common room, pages from Titus spread on the table before him and his trencher shoved to the side, the ink drying in the nib of his pen.

And I turn it into a sentence like this:

Will sat picking at a supper of mutton and ale in the coolest corner of the common room, his trencher shoved to one side and Titus spread on the table, the ink drying in his pen.

Doesn't seem like much, does it? But you would be amazed how it adds up. Do that to every single one of the 12,452 sentences in this novel (averaging 11.4 words per sentence, I might add), and you have a much tighter and better-flowing book.

The astute observer will notice that most of the important stuff I did to that sentence was not the trimming, but fixing the line of direction so the evolution of action and description flow more naturally through the movement of the prose.

Yeah, I actually do this with every dratted book. Every time I revise it.

What, you thought it fell out of my head that way?



(Hey, at least I'm blogging about revising. That's like work.)

Comments

Thank you for sharing that example.
Seeing as how I am stumbling through revising right now, this is a good insight.

Thank you. :D
What, you thought it fell out of my head that way?

Hee, nope, and it's reassuring that it doesn't.
It really and truly does add up. After I had that epiphany, I cut over 3K out of the most recent book I'd written, simply by eliminating an adjective here and a "that" there.

But it's slow work, ne? I'm curious as to whether you catch it all by eye, or read out loud to figure out where you can be more concise.
I actually mostly don't read out loud. I can't follow books on tape and I don't usually go to readings, because I lose track.

Gotta be in the eyes.

But I can get a sense of the rhythm in my head.

It's not always tightness, of course--you know that. The idea is not to get it as small as possible. But to get all the fat off so the architecture and muscle show through.
Ah, see, my eye will glide right over mistakes and infelicities my tongue and ear will catch. But I'm reading visually while I speak it; I'm not talking about recording it and then listening to it on its own.

And yes, of course, you're right. Sometimes what you need to tighten a paragraph up is an extra sentence. But I find it generally gets shorter overall, as unnecessary detail, weasel words, and general lack of direction in one's sentences gets polished away.

(It's one of the few times my brain doesn't default to a textile metaphor. To me, this stage is the last bits of carving, shaving off infinitesimal slivers of wood to get the surface just right.)
Yeah. It's the prepositional phrases that kill me.

They breed when I'm not looking, I swear.

She crossed the room to him with purpose in her stride!
Timing cues are my bane. "For a moment," "briefly" -- people pause or hesitate or do other things that tell me how long things take.

And in MNC, apparently it was also all about where people were looking and what their voices sounded like. (The latter, no doubt, being partly a consequence of how much time the pov characters spent kneeling or curtseying deeply or otherwise not looking their respective sovereigns in the eye.)
Hee.

Also, do we notice a certain repetition of image in "Incense-strong tobacco hung on the air in ribbons like smoke from a censer"?

I thought we might.

Also, Bear, please never use the phrase "hideous burden" kthxbye.

No error of mine will ever top the one where a character fought giant poisonous snakes . . . and was wounded . . . but apparently somehow not poisoned.

Just what did they wound her with?

Mind you, I was twelve when I wrote that. But it's the kind of thing my brain never lets me live down. That, and the typo in the second word of a novel draft that I didn't see until I sent the completed ms off for a friend to read . . . .

I tell myself revision time is a wonderful gift. It gives me a chance to catch it before I embarrass myself in public. But still, there's always a tipping point when I just Can't. Make Myself. Care. Anymore.
That would be when we hand in the book.

I suspect it's actually a good thing. It's the point where you have to let go. And then they give you a check.
Yeah, but up until that point, it's an escalating battle of Work Ethic vs. Increasing Apathy.

I tend to hit my break point somewhere in either copy-edits or proofs. Then I just want to shove the thing back in the envelope unread and say "sure, whatever, looks good."
Heh. Yeah. Somewhere in the proofs, oh god. And then I find that one sentence I just can't live with after all.
Or worse -- you don't find it.

Until you open the finished, printed copy.
I don't read them once they're in print.

They make me nauseated.
Sentence diagramming. That's the cure.

I got my hands on a copy of Warriner's "English Grammar and Composition." I'm getting ready to use it on my kids who need remedial writing work.

I'm hoping that the refresher will be Very Useful for me, as well.
I'm with you on the verbal part of it. I find that letting the work sit, then going back to it, can help a lot.

Thanks for sharing this revision. I love reading about this sort of thing.
How it does fall out of one's head is actually pretty weird. I have that trouble with the lines of direction all the time. I keep trying to learn to grab the sentence on the fly and correct it before it hits the screen, but letting things come out all higgledy-piggledy and fixing them seems to be part of the process. I don't even seem to know which way I want to face until I realize that the way I am facing is wrong. *snarl* Oh, well.

P.
Heh. Yeah, me too. I have to write it and then fix the sentence before it and then write the sentence halfway down the page and then go back and fix something else and then fix the one I just wrote...

And then do it all again on the rewrite.
If I had to write that it wouldn't fall out of my head, my head would just fall off.

I seem to have an eye for prose too. There are books that I read and cringe at the bad flow. On behalf of my eyes, THANK YOU for all of the hard work. It really is appreciated.
You are welcome!
Actually seems like a lot. If I read a book written like the first sentence I tend to start skipping forward.

I don't skip through your books :).
I've long been aware that sentences have their own micro architecture. Here you demonstrate it beautifully. And strangely, my sentence average is also 11. Though my latest story is sadly trencherless.
Everything's better with trenchers.
I find they tend to get rubbery in microwaves though. And they don't boil well, unfortunately.
You know, I swear I have seen a receipt for trencher soup.

Using the old soaked trenchers.

Ew.

Feel free to invite yourself for dinner at my house with said recipe. Can you flavour it with Vegemite?