Monday, July 07, 2008

The fine art of editing.

Vicki here, and I am currently reading a new book by a woman who’d probably rank as one of my top five favourite authors. And a super nice person, to boot. It’s an excellent book, but, I have to ask, does she not have an editor?

The main character is an American, he is big. He is a big man. He has big hands. Did I mention that he is big? The other main character is an Englishman. He is small. He is a small man. Did I mention that he is small? For F&^*%’s sake, almost every single page, sometimes more than once on a page, we are told that the American is big, or that the Englishman is small. There is only one American in the entire book (so far) the adjective is not necessary, we get the point. For a while, towards the middle of the book, the appearance of those words began to drop off. But suddenly, towards the end, they’re back.

Herein begins Chapter 52. XX sat at his desk eyeing the big American across from him. If there were 37 and a half Americans in the room you might need to use an adjective to describe one in particular. There is only one American, actually only one other person, who xx could be eyeing. But just in case we missed it the previous three hundred and twenty times, we need to know that the American is big. Similarly if these people didn’t have names you might need to describe them. But towards the end of Chapter 51, we read that the small man stopped. Again, there are only two people in the room. How about Grey stopped?

The writer seems to have lost her Thesaurus. If it is necessary to constantly use an adjective to describe these characters how about gigantic, enormous, miniscule, tiny, over-sized, under-sized, colossal, gargantuan, petite, diminutive?

This is not, from a reader’s point of view, a minor point. I am thinking of getting a pen and circling every instance of the word small or big. It is annoying me so much, that were the book of only a slightly lesser quality, I’d have stopped reading long ago. I once began a book by Quentin Jardine. I never finished it, and never picked up another, because of the overuse of one word. And, you guessed it, it was BIG

Perhaps this stands out for me because when I give workshops one of the things I tell my students is that we all have weasel words or crutch words. Words we use over and over. It doesn’t matter in conversation, but sticks out like a BIG sore thumb on the page. No one knows what their crutch words are until someone else points it out. This is one reason, I always say, that you have to have someone else read over your manuscript.

Otherwise, your readers just might throw that SMALL book out the BIG window.

4 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

Oh, come on now, Vicki! You simply MUST tell us who the author is. Not telling us is like not putting an ending on a book, sort of like, "And then the door opened and the murderer stepped inside. In his hand, the big man held a gun. I never before felt my smallness so much."

You'd never write an ending like that, would you?

Vicki Delany said...

I don't mind revealing what the book is, the author is big enough not to care about my small criticism, but I don't want to ruin the book for anyone else. They'd spend the whole book looking for those words.

Donis Casey said...

I just have to be very careful about certain words I just use over and over. I just spend hours with a pencil just whacking out things that I was just totally unaware that I just went completely overboard with.

Rick Blechta said...

No, I insist.