Monday, February 9, 2009

Or Not To Be

There's nothing quite as embarrassing as realizing you've made a rookie mistake. Granted, you are a rookie, but in your imaginings, you are above such obvious blunders. Not so. The rookie mistakes will find you. They will show up like a fluorescent stain under a black light, shining, screaming, "look what a stupid thing I did!" Gods, I hate the buggers.

I had the fortune, or misfortune depending on how you look at it, to have one really enormous rookie error pointed out for me. Fortunate, because I now have the opportunity to fix the problem, learn from my mistake, yadda yadda. Unfortunate, because the error was pointed out after the manuscript had been submitted. Crap.

What hideous crime had I committed? I'm ashamed to admit it. I've always excelled at writing courses, earned my A+'s in English class, but this error, this horrendous breech of fiction quality, is so basic as to be nearly unforgivable. It has to do with verbs, specifically, "to be" verbs and something called the "passive voice."
I told you it was a rookie mistake.

To my dismay, my manuscript had been infiltrated by "to be" verbs, and I hadn't even noticed. My characters were walking, my heroine was looking, was dancing, was laughing, my skies were blue and my villains were cackling. Holy cow! It took me two months of rewriting to fix it. Now my heroine looks, dances, walks, etc. My skies blaze and my villains cackle. Phew, better? Not a chance.
Not a chance because after the rewrite I took a good hard look at my other manuscripts, and my short stories, my novellas. I'm doomed.

The was's had infected all of my writing. They'd spread like some alien virus and stripped my verbs of their power, their impact, their zing. Scratch, scribble scribble... rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Agh.

Rookie mistake. I hate those things. Not half way through the sea of rewrites, I chanced upon a discussion about character description on one of my author's groups. The gist of the topic was how to describe a character effectively without blowing the flow of the story and or slipping into a horrid cliche, like having them look in a mirror. Ummmm
I'm far to sophisticated to try that one, right? Guess again.
No less than two of my main characters get their descriptions off by checking themselves out in a mirror. Doomed. Brain dead. Special

I seriously didn't realize I'd done it. I have to watch me like a hawk. One slip in attention and, BANG, I fall straight into cliche land. Scratch, scribble, scribble, rewrite.

What's a girl to do? Aside from chastising myself unmercifully for committing atrocities against literature, my best bet is to keep at it, revise, stay alert and see what other evils I can uncover. Like my adverb addiction. quickly, smartly, smoothly, barf.

The experience has, at the least, shown me the immense value of feedback, of networking and staying involved with other writers. Bless them all for tolerating a rookie in their midst. It has also proven the value of letting your work sit before editing. Wait a while and look at your words with fresh eyes. Sometimes, you won't even recognize them. Sometimes you'll find brilliance you don't remember creating, and sometimes you'll think, "I couldn't possibly have written this drivel." Either way, it pays to give a manuscript time to age, or fester.

For my part, "I have no idea why my characters can't speak without winking or grinning," she said with a wink and a grin.
I have a lot of work to do.

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