Monday, 4 June 2007

Doctor Who and Good Advice For Editing Your Novel

How good was last week's Doctor Who? I watched it last night (hooray for 'on demand' again) and I actually cried at the end. I cried at an episode of Doctor Who?! Who would have thought it? It was the look in the war veteran's eyes when he saw the Doctor that set me off - and the thought of him as a child in the first world war. Bloody well done the writer of that episode.

Oh - and I can't stress enough how excellent this book is:

I spent hours reading through it last night and found some excellent advice on 'making your words work'. This book is going to be particularly helpful when I come to work on the second draft of my novel and I'll post a blog about the advice but, for now, here's some of the advice in brief:
  • eschew verbosity (don't use long words when short ones will do, don't use rare words instead of common ones, don't use words that are unfamiliar to the majority of your readers. Use simple words but don't confuse simple with dull - use simple but interesting words - why 'walk' when you can 'stroll'. )
  • remove redundant words (there's no need to say 'enormous giant' - giant is enough)
  • remove wasted words (replace 'in the event of' with 'if', replace 'on the occasion of' with 'when' and 'owing to the fact that' with 'because')
  • don't modify words that cannot be modified (e.g. 'very unique' or 'slightly impossible')
  • replace weak words with strong words (instead of writing 'Lee was a mean woman' write 'Lee was a shrew'. Look for adverbs - they often occur because you chose a weak verb and tried to boost it. Chuck your adverbs in the bin and replace them with stronger verbs. Instead of 'Stan jumped suddenly upon the burglar' write 'Stan pounced on the burglar'
  • Use the active voice rather than the passive voice where possible (e.g. replace 'the Christmas present given to Frank was an electric guitar' with 'Frank got an electric guitar for Christmas)
  • Be specific (rather than write 'Joe drove a car through the desert' write 'Joe drove a Mustang through the Sahara' - it gives a much more vivid image for the reader to grab hold of)
  • Show don't tell (don't write 'Sarah was impatient' write 'Sarah tapped her foot and glanced at her watch')
  • Avoid cliches
  • Appeal to the senses - sight, smell, sound, touch

All that advice is in the 'Style' chapter of the book. There's tons more in the other sections. Honestly I can't recommend this book enough.

Oh - and this bit of advice, right at the end, could have be written for me:

"In fact, I encourage you not to try too hard to make the first draft good. Too many writers are so critical of themselves in the first draft that they never get to the second. They sit down to write, with a fussy little editor sitting on their shoulder, and after two of three paragraphs the little editor snickers. "Oh, that's awful," he says. Or "What a stupid way of saying that. This is embarrassing." So the writer yanks the sheet of paper out of the typewriter, tosses it into a wastebasket, and starts over. Some writers never finish a story because of that little editor on their shoulder. Save your editor for the rewriting. Write the first draft without judgment. Take some risks. Put in the words that might seem ridiculous. Nobody but you has to see the first draft. It is better to rewrite bad writing than to be so inhibited in the first draft that you don't put in the good, imaginative writing you are capable of.

The way I look at it is that when you rewrite your story, article, chapter, essay, or whatever, you are sculpting the clay that you created. But when you write the first draft you are creating clay out of nothing. That, by itself, is a tough enough trick; don't burden yourself with the further requirement that it be any good. The first draft doesn't have to be good. It just has to be there."


Helen said...

I really like the advice at the end of your post Cally. It takes the pressure off a bit.

P.S I also cried at the end of Dr. Who. I watched it last night. Very very good.

SallyQ said...

Can Lee, a man, be a 'shrew'? I only ask because it's a term usually associated with women.

But thanks for the information about the book Cally. Another one to add to my list.

Doctor Who was astounding, wasn't it? Such a different story, showing a whole new side to him. I wanted to hit him when he was ready to dump Martha for that nurse though...

SallyQ said...

Oops, misread 'Lee was a mean woman' as 'Lee was mean to women'. That'll teach me to scan read blush...

CTaylor said...

Helen - yay, glad I wasn't the only one. And yes, that's very good advice. I may have to print it out and staple it to my forehead!

Sally - I picked up on that too. First he told the nurse to go with him and then he gave Martha a massive hug like SHE was the one he really wanted to be with. Not sure what to make of that really (maybe it was to demonstrate how different from 'John Smith' the Doctor really is. Made him come across as a bit of a two-faced shit to be honest!)

A. Writer said...

The advice you've posted here is fantastic! Thank you!

CTaylor said...

a.writer - glad you found it useful. It's definitely worth printing out and re-writing whenever the wobbles (or wibbles) hit!

kathmcg said...

Haven't seen Dr Who yet - I was away at the weekend. But we recorded it. I will arm myself with tissues when we sit down to watch it, so thanks for the warning!

CTaylor said...

Kath - hope I haven't spoiled the ending for you!

Kate said...

Hello fellow Doctor Who fan!

Was it just me imagining myself as that nurse when she lip-locked with the Doctor!

Just wondered.. Who began the 'Novel Racers'?

kathmcg said...

No, you didn't spoil it for me, Cally! Watched it last night, no tissues, but my sleeve did the job.
Brilliant. What a great actor David Tennant is (Kate - I'm auditioning for the part of his next romance, so no it's not jyst you). And I really enjoyed the slower pace of this two-parter. Not sure my sons (12 and 9) liked it as much, though.

CTaylor said...

Glad I didn't spoil it for you Kath and that you enjoyed it after my big build up!

I can see why children wouldn't really enjoy those episodes as there wasn't as much running around and shouting as normal (though they did fit some in of course!)

Victoria Hume said...

Thanks for the great writing advice. I think i would have shed a tear at the end of doctor who if my boyfriend hadn't been in the room. Did you catch yesterday's episode, i found it so scary! I won't say why in case you haven't seen it yet.

I've just found this adverb detector on the internet, it searches your writing for the dreaded -ly words! You need to have firefox to use it though, and i think it only searches web pages... but you could open your story up as a web page. I guess on reflection it would probably just be easier to search for 'ly' in your word document. Anyway, here it is: