Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revising - a home-made workshop - Lesson 3 - language

Today, at the home-made workshop, we're going to discuss language. Language is obviously a micro-editing matter. The elements it incorporates are clarity, authenticity, repetitions and so on. But more than the sum of these parts, language is voice. And voice is a learned thing. We need to liberate ourselves from acquired mannerisms, aesthetic habits, and ticks of a lifetime, in order to write freshly and truly. Voice is very personal, of course, and we don't need to kill our own voice - we just need to look at it with a slightly jaundiced eye. For instance, I like repeating words, I like quirky old-fashioned phrases from the forties, I like ending sentences with a preposition. I can use some of these sparingly, but if I make my characters have all the same ticks that I do, well - that isn't voice - that is laziness. If I don't make sure my repetitions aren't some faux finish I put on my words - that do not serve the story - then I'm affected not effective as a writer.
As I revise, I need to hunt out tired clichés - in my mad dash to get the story down, I will have written hundreds of them. That's OK. I don't beat myself up over it - I know that they are holding the place for my thoughtful revision.  I need to pare down my language- not over weigh sentences with too many stunningly gorgeous words. I need to vacuum up all the tiny words that clog my sentences - that, in spite of the fact, in order to, I would argue that - and so on. I might add and so on to the list! I will be hunting the passive and flaccid word choices - the 'ing' words, the 'to be' that slow the reader and rob the phrases of the muscular robustness that I desire.
In this revision, I will look for those words that irritate me, or, conversely, that I'm over proud of. The artificial, pretentious, and gimmicky, must be banished.
Today, those of you who are revising, take a small piece of your work - a page or two - and look for those words, lurking in unedited prose, that need to go - or be changed to tighter and brighter ones.


Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - Oh, this is something that really resonates with me! Maybe it's because I'm a linguist, but I am very sensitive to the way language is used. I try to make my characters' use of language authentic, and when I succeed, their words tell readers about them. When I don't succeed, the artificiality of it is just glaring. Thanks for the reminder to look over the way I use language in what I am writing.

Angela Felsted said...

This is such a huge endeavor. It takes so much time and even then, you aren't sure that you got everything. Good luck to you.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sometimes it's scary how many words and phrases we overuse.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I'm making a pass right now through a manuscript for word goofs or word overuse...this is a helpful post! Thanks. :)

Words A Day said...

Thankyou! I like how you describe the process - those poor flaccid words!You make it sound fun Jan,I'm off to vacuum up some of those tiny words, not for too long though, I've still a lot of macro editing to do:)