Friday, May 07, 2010

I'm not telling

I'm getting two manuscripts edited at the same time. One is my first novel, which never got a proper edit in the first place. I asked my publisher if she was planning to format Unbinding the Stone for Kindle and she said she didn't have the book in Word form. I do, of course. Well, maybe not 'of course', apparently there are authors out there who delete their files when they get published, which strikes me as odd. I still have all the edits of my books. Anyway, once the possibility of sending her my book doc was raised, getting it revised and recovered was a short step away. I'd been pushing for it, even offered to pay for it, since the cover and back blurb are pretty bad and don't say anything about the book. In addition the thing will actually become more profitable for her, so what's not to love.

My editor did the first 180 pages and said, "Do like that for the rest." Not sure what came up, but it was something in the way of a favor anyway so I can't complain much if she stopped 40% through. Besides, the book is 10 years old now, I'm changed as a writer and will probably do well enough on my own. The hard part will be not changing the tone of the book.

My other editor was removed from the project. In fact he was removed from all projects, if you know what I mean. He told me to remove 'was' and 'were', since my publisher hated those words (like I didn't know that), but otherwise my MS was completely perfect.

I believed this.

The senior editor promised me a proper edit when I finished with that little chore. My publisher offered my son a job as editor of the SF/F branch. Seems she had an opening.

So I spent a few days doing a word search for 'was' and trolling through my book, St. Martin's Moon, trying to get rid of whatever I could find. It's not as easy as it sounds, you know. Finding it is easy, but to get rid of it, I have to read the text and decide how to do it. What other words have to change to accomodate the change in verb? How do the new words change the meaning of the sentence? How does the new sentence afffect the whole paragraph? It can be quite a workout.

But I recall one bright spot, a line that was pure 'tell', that I turned into pure 'show'. My hero was looking through a database trying to find a Western with mad scientists in it (don't ask, just read the book)(when it comes out), and he accidentally trips over their horror movie listing. It's quite extensive. He was impressed by it. There was even a line, 'This was an impressive list.'

Like I said, pure 'tell'. But for most of the book he'd been making obscure movie references, and as I was looking at the 'was' in the middle of this dull sentence, a new sentence popped into my head:
"Impressive," he thought to himself in a deep mental voice, "Most impressive."
Which is pure 'show', fits the character, is familiar without necessarily being obvious, and suits the tone of the book. For those of you who don't know it, it's the line Darth Vader says after Luke escapes his trap by leaping twenty feet straight up. You would not believe the bits of dialog and song lyrics I have floating around in the back of my head, waiting for opportunities like this.

Anyway, thus endeth the lesson for today. Anyone who needs an example of 'show, don't tell', please feel free to use it. I have 400 pages of book 1 to plow through.


Helen Ginger said...

It's almost impossible to eliminate all uses of "was". I dont' think I've ever read a book without a "was". Yours may be a first.

Straight From Hel

Author Guy said...

Fortunately for my ego, I never said I actually got rid of all of them, just the ones I found that I could get rid of. There were plenty I found that I couldn't get rid of (sometimes 'to be' is the main verb and 'was' is perfectly valid), and plenty more that I didn't find. My publisher said she once had an author simply delete all 'was' and 'were' from the ms. Not what she had in mind.