Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Slash and Hack

I'm currently exploring the art of editing, or The Slash and Hack, as I've come to think of it. Fellow aspiring authors out there have probably heard before the damage you'll have to do to a manuscript before it's ready. Cut, cut, cut! Of course, we rarely listen to those sage scribes that have come before us, because it's usually impossible to fathom how to write a book until you've really spent some time, you know, writing a book. It's taken me four years to get to a point where I'm ready to question every word I have. Getting those same words (which are chopped up in the dead zone of a computer's bowels right now) out on the paper in the first place was hard enough, but to get rid of them? You'll know the thrill when you see it, people. The realization that you don't need most of them. Yep, I said it.

I'm working through Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages right now. If you don't have it - get it. It's illuminating. I'll try to post a progression of pages tomorrow, where you can see how I worked from six pages down to four just by following Noah's suggestions.

Here's a good way to start editing a draft:

-Read through with a highlighter and pinpoint any areas that you have to think about. By "think about" I mean anything that strikes you (good or bad), that your brain needs to process a bit harder to read, or a word/phrase that gets your salivary glands pumping, or your muscles twitching, something that sounds weird or awkward, or phrases/words that seem different from the others (again, whether good or bad). I'm still finding it difficult to learn how to recognize when I'm making a greater effort to read a sentence. But if my thought process is thrown when I'm reading, no matter in what way, I highlight.

- Work page by page (yes, daunting, but worth it!)

- Then, on a separate page list all the adverbs and adjectives that you can find.

**I'll admit with a blush right now that I had to re-teach myself the difference between all of these grammatical definitions. Thank you public school!

**Instead of listing the adverbs and adjectives, I went through with a highlighter instead. It
helped bring them to a better focus, in my opinion. Try using a different color highlighter to
differentiate from the first read-through.

- Next, list every noun and verb. This list will probably be much longer than the previous, so I found it easier to use a separate word document. I also kept a log of how many times each word pops up and variations on each. After completing the list, print it and date it, then review it with your page side by side. For example:

**I used 'door' twice on my first page, and 'driver' three times, I said 'held' four times, and 'looked' three.

**This was all on one page. Just trying to write each of these only once provides all sorts of new sentences that I would never have thought of. Give it a shot.

- Look at each word and determine whether or not you really need it. This is where you ask yourself the question: what am I trying to say here? For another example:

I had two uses of 'rarely' within two paragraphs, and I used some version of 'firm' four separate times within six pages.

- One read-through won't immediately bring these words to your attention, but once you notice them, you're better able to come up with more unique and concise ways to say things. Just by reviewing these words, you'll realize that many of them are pointless. You won't be able to go to sleep that night just thinking, Oh no, I have seventeen mentions of a dead squirrel in the first five pages! Trying to remove all the times you say 'dead squirrel' will inspire better sentences.


Rick Baker said...

I don't know if you've ever seen this, but there's a "free" tool that will help you identify repetitive patterns in your writing. It's called "autocrit" ( It finds words and phrases that you may be overusing, and even points out dull sentence patterns. It's definitely worth a try.

Quillhill said...

Okay, now I have a computer monitor screen that has splotches of yellow and pink all over it. What's the next step? How do I get rid of them to start clean for the next page? Can I just shake the screen like an Etch-a-Sketch and they will disappear?

Isn't it amazing how rarely an adverb actually helps a verb!

I've been reading John Gardner's The Art of Fiction which I think is quite good, too. I may check out your title.

Vivien V. said...

Hey quill,

Try a nice kick to the monitor. It usually shakes out the adverbs too...

Merc said...

I prefer flamethrowers. %-) Except for the fact that it tends to ruin the screen even more. Can't figure out why! :P

Good advice on slash&hack, V. I need to do that on one novel and finish throwing it to critters (angry mobs and pitchforks come to mind if I don't), and since I already did one pass with a red pen and slashed close to a third of the word count just in wordiness, I should go into more detail...

*sigh* It's not that I have any problem slaughtering the text. I just get distracted and said project is on hold... O:)

I actually didn't think about this technique (the page-by-page) as much for shorts before, but it's a really good idea! I should do that to help clean them up better. :D Thanks!