Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sterile Procedure

I’m a tattoo artist. Did I mention that? Just run with me. Tattoo artists understand the importance of sterile procedure. (Hopefully!) So do doctors, and god willing, those who prepare our food. Don’t get me started. But, at the moment, I’m a little frustrated, and I’m going to rant a bit about the cons of sterile procedure. Confused?

Never mind. Let’s talk about critique and editing. I’ve always stressed the importance of critique and feedback, and I still do. But I’ve noticed a huge difference between the critique you get from readers—even critical ones, and the feedback you get from other authors. As both, I have to admit that the way I read has become a lot more nit-picky than it was before I started all this editing and crafting business. Writers reading a manuscript are looking for something wrong. They’re looking for all the mistakes they have learned not to make, and they’re looking for a whole slew of new ones too.

This isn’t a bad thing. Really. I still believe wholeheartedly that an author should get feedback from other authors and non-author readers as well. But, I do think some of the feedback I’m seeing from other authors may be taking things a tiny bit too far. Maybe, an author feels the need to find something to correct? Maybe then want very much to show what they’ve learned. I understand that. I do it too. But I’m concerned about sucking the life from a manuscript by over-correcting the thing until it reads like a manual for assembling your VCR.

Okay, I have something specific in mind. Because I love critique, right? I crave the feedback, and I’m fine with the “this sucks and you have to re-write it.” So long as I agree with it. :-)

Here’s what I don’t love. I found it on another blog, but I’ve seen it on my online crit. site too. The feedback looks something like this: “She rolled her eyes…” How did she roll them? On the floor? Has she taken them out and tossed them across the table….etc. SIGH.

I bought this at first. I believe in clear, concise writing. There is such a thing as over-using metaphor and such. So I went along for awhile. “Her gaze dropped…” How does a gaze drop? “His eyes danced” really? Did they do a Tango or a Waltz? I’ve thought about it, and I don’t buy it anymore.

I don’t buy it because it sucks. Not just as in it stinks, which it does, but as in it sucks the life and poetry and beauty out of prose. Some of you are about to argue with me. Go ahead. I really don’t mind. It may even be that I’m totally off the mark. And like I said, over-using this can really kill a manuscript. I hate flowery, sympathetic, vague writing as much as the next reader. The reader must understand clearly what is going on and it is the author’s job to make that happen.

BUT. I refuse to believe that readers are morons. After all, I’m a reader and I refuse to believe that I’m a moron. I’ve read a lot of fiction. I’ve read “she rolled her eyes,” before. You have too. Have you ever, ever ,ever been confused about the physics involved? Be honest.

Do you know why you didn’t envision her popping out her eyeballs and pushing them along the tabletop? Because you’ve rolled your damned eyes before, haven’t you? Eye rolling is part of the common vernacular. It’s how we talk, and so part of our voice. We understand what it means. We honestly do. We understand that gazes drop to the rug and examine the design. We understand that eyes dance. (But that one’s a little foofy for me.)

I think these critiques are well intentioned, because we all know that writers screw this up. I do, especially when I’m writing fast. “Her eyes swiveled…” trying to be fancy, eh? Cut it out. “The furniture danced”? Okay, THAT one, I’m confused about. And if every look is darting, I’m darting back to the bookstore for a refund. So the rule is sound…but maybe it should be balanced with some common sense?

“She stepped three paces to the northeast and bent at the waist and knees so that her posterior sat on the couch. She turned her head and both of her eyes focused on the man. They were still in her head, (phew) but looking at him. The table existed in the center of the room where it had been placed by the designer. (It didn’t stand in the center of the room, because it doesn’t have two proper legs) The central processing region of her brain sent the chemical message through her nervous system to feel an attraction for the man, and blood moved into the area of her cheeks, causing them to appear pinker than the rest of her face. . .”

Ugh. Don’t sterilize your prose. Please. Until my editor tells me that my characters can’t roll their eyes, I’m not buying it. When she does, I’ll change it…because I want the stuff in print. And yes, I’ll edit out the swiveling, and darting, and off the wall wording that screws up clarity. I don’t know how that crap got into the text in the first place.

I just rolled my eyes.

~Frances

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