Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Excess Words

For me, editing is about refining my writing, catching mistakes I made (and missed through multiple edits – hey, it happens) and taking out excess words.

I guess in the initial writing process, all filters are off. I just type, the words flowing, my fingers zapping across the keyboard. I type there instead of their or may instead of man and I've even been known to type the wrong character's name a dozen times or more throughout the rough draft process. I'm supposed to put the filters on during the editing process and catch all my mistakes. There's definitely a reason I do multiple edits – draft after draft after draft after draft ad nauseum – before I even consider the manuscript COMPLETE.

Tonight during the edit process, lo and behold, I found excess words at the end of some sentences. How in the heck did that happen? Okay, so this is only the edit of the first draft, but still . . .

Example: He flexed his fingers slightly before he settled them just above the pristine keys (of the piano) – deleted of the piano. So, you're thinking, well if he takes out of the piano how in the heck am I going to know the what of the pristine keys? Well, dear readers, it's quite simple, since the prior sentence mentions that the character is sitting at the piano; therefore, of the piano becomes redundant, useless, and not worth the time it took me to type them in the first place. Gone, are those three simple words.

Example: He finished the (one) song and effortlessly began the next without a pause, so that only he – at first – knew he was now playing a different song – deleted the word one. Why? Unnecessary word. If the word does not fit, you must omit. Oops, sorry about that! If the sentence can survive without the word, omit the word.

How many excess words are in your completed manuscripts? How many over-explanations exist?


SJDuvall said...

I'm sure there are tons of useless words in my manuscript. There are also places, however, where more descriptions could be used, and it's harder to see those sometimes, because as the writer you know the whole world you're writing.

But great job on catching the extra words in your writing! Impressive, if you ask me.

KLo said...

Do you think there is ever such a thing as a completely edited piece?

I'm not a perfectionist in any facet of my life except my writing, which I find to be exceedingly weird.

Lady Glamis said...

Oh, heavens, this is my greatest weakness! Oftentimes I have to get help from beta readers to find all the excess crap I need to cut. Or I need to take a really long break from the manuscript, which I'm doing right now. Yay!

Alex Moore said...

indeed! that's definitely one of the easier aspects of editing... it's the revisioning process that aches, sometimes :)

great post & good advice

Janine said...

My editing bugbear is repeated words. I'll use a word once, then repeat it again in the next sentence or so (sort of like you did with 'piano').

My savior is the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It finds the repeated words and phrases and flags them for me. Love it!

Tess said...

Thirty-six. JK! I hope not too many, but I'm sure (if it ever makes it to) agent/editor will find some even after I've combed through it a million times.

Scott said...

KLo - I don't think there is ever a completely edited piece. Does any artist ever think their work is truly complete? I know I don't. There just comes a time when I step away from the project and say 'enough is enough'. I also know that when the day comes when I get an agent, that another editing process will begin. That doesn't mean I present a sloppy, unedited manuscript, only that I present the best manuscript I can present. : )

Lady Glamis - I'm always amazed at the excess crap I find in a manuscript I have edited numerous times. I'm always like, what the heck??? I know I couldn't have missed that the first seven times I read through this document. : ) I also always, always, give myself a break between revisions - normally 2 to 3 weeks where I work on something else. I read somewhere that a writer should never start editing the moment they finish the rough draft. Space, weeks or months, is needed so that the writer is looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes. It seems to work for me.

Janine - what the heck is the AutoCrit Editing Wizard? I've never heard of that before. Oh, no, I see an intense Google session in my very near future. More coffee, please!

Alex - the revision process does ache. I always considered editing a chore and felt that I was not 'writing' while I was editing. I know, silly idea. It took me quite a while to come to terms that editing is all part of the writing process. I might not be creating new characters and conflicts, but I am still writing.

SJ - every manuscript has tons of useless words. Hopefully, we'll all find ours and have the most polished manuscript an agent has ever seen. Okay, it's early, the caffeine hasn't settled in yet, and that was the biggest load of tripe I think I've ever written. Still, I often think writers/authors miss the excess words in the editing process. It's just one more thing for us to remember.

Thanks to everyone for your comments. You really make my day.