Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We Interrupt This Program To EMBARRASS THE HECK OUT OF ME

Hi, folks. I'm sorry about the unannounced radio silence last week. I fully intended to put up a blog post, but my birthday happened, and then my wife and I took off for heretofore unexplored regions of Western Massachusetts, where, it turns out, there are gorgeous views to look at and bountiful waterfalls and rivers to swim in and Bridges of Flowers (which, by the way, was a hell of a lot cooler and more lovely than it sounds) to cross, and very little in the way of cell phone or Internet service. So, I took a week off. Without really meaning to. Whoops.

But I'm back! And I am, as promised going to talk about plot this week - except - well, actually - if you don't mind -

I'm really not going to at all.

Nope. Sorry. Why? Because my editor has been tearing through great gobby sections of my manuscript with  unrestrained glee, and thanks to my unplanned week off, I'm now fighting to come up for air from beneath piles of marked-up pages and poor, dead, murdered paragraphs. Yes, that's right, it's time once again for small children and psychopathic criminals and abandoned puppies (look here for a key to that last sentence).


So, I'm once again wading like a lunatic through the seemingly endless pages of Cloudland, scythe in hand, slashing and burning and generally having a grand old time. Today, because I can't think about anything else at the moment, I'm going to treat you to an inside look at Liz's Bad Writing Habits, a.k.a. Stuff My Editor Is Constantly Cutting, a.k.a. Willing and Conscious Self-Humiliation In Seven Parts:

1. I've already mentioned one of them: a tendency to bash my readers over the head with over-explanation. Repeatedly. Ad nauseum. Just like I'm doing here. Oh boy.

2. I like the words 'long' and 'slow'. A lot. A whole, whole lot. I also really like them together, as in a 'long, slow moment'. There are (or rather, there were, before my editor's pen went hog-wild) a large number of 'long, slow moments' in my manuscript. I also really like it when people do things that are 'long' and/or 'slow': 'a long silence', 'a slow nod', 'a long, slow smile'. This is problematic, because, funny enough, readers seem to get bored with LONG, SLOW BOOKS.

3. One of my main characters, Sara, seems to like to avoid declarative sentences. For an example, see the sentence I just wrote. Does she seem to like to avoid them, or does she, in fact, just like to avoid them? As Shakespeare has Hamlet point out, '"Seems," madam? Nay, it is; I know not "seems."' 

4. I have a problem with pairing actions and body parts. Before your imagination runs wild, let me explain: I like to point out that characters nod their heads, and cross their arms over their chests. Because, you know, why just say that someone nodded, without saying what they nodded? I mean, that could be chaos! What body part did they nod?? There are so many choices! How will we ever know if I don't say it?!

5. I am a specific word addict. Once I find a word I like, I use it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And then I use it some more. My editor and I are compiling a growing list of Words I Am No Longer Allowed To Use in Cloudland. They include: fierce, wild, shift/shifting, murmur, quiver/quivering, long, and slow (see #2 above).

6. Emotions don't just happen; they happen in specific body parts. Or at least, they do when I write about them. I have a whole lot of instances of guilt rising in throats, and anger surging in stomachs, and grief filling lungs. I think at some point, someone told me that emotions should be visceral for the reader, and I, erm, took them rather seriously.

7. I love words. I really do. I love the way they taste, sound, look, smell, and feel (and yes, some words do have smells). This is not a bad thing, actually; it's just part of who I am, and a large part of why I love to read and write. The problem comes when I love them so much that I just keep piling 'em on. Hence, the collections of mass graves for my poor dead paragraphs.

I'm sure there are more Bad Habits I could name, but if you'll excuse me, I really need to get back to excising mine from my manuscript now.

Plot next week!! No, really!


  1. LIZ!! this is fantastic.. I'm getting so much out of how to be a better writer. I'm not planning to write a NOVEL, but it's helpful to be mindful of some common trip ups.

  2. Liz, thanks for the laughs. I love your list of 7 bad habits. Of course, none of US ever do this in our own writing, but still, it's useful to see what yours are. Love, Pop

  3. Ha! Had to laugh at the list. I have a tendency to nod heads and cross arms a lot too in my descriptions. And "seemed" makes its way into way too many sentences. My CP basically slashes and burns most of my writing with abandon. :)

    Don't see a follower's widget, but I've got you added to my feed. :)

    1. Thanks so much, L.G.! Both for the solidarity and for the follow. I found your blog today and LOVE it. Added it to my weekly read :) And added a follower's widget, too - is my blogging-greenness showing yet??

  4. 5. But how else are you supposed to describe a fierce and wild wind that shifts the grasses longly and slowly across the plain; the collective quivering of each wayward blade resonating with the murmur in our wild (and fierce!) hearts? Huh?? How are you supposed to say that?

    I'd write more but the back of my head really hurts for some reason, almost as though someone had been hitting it with a giant frying pan. Huh....