Thursday, August 02, 2018

Making gerunds history: tips from a summer spent revising

I’ve spent the past two months “streamlining.” Given a free moment here and there, I’ve reworked a draft of a novel, re-envisioning the plot, and trying to say more with less. The result is a book that entered the world weighing 85,000 words and now tips the scales at 65,000. And she’s a better read because of it.

In May, my agents called with “suggestions.” We spoke about ways to get to the ending quicker, and one way seemed obvious to me: eliminate one subplot; simply cut out one character altogether. So I sharpened my knife and went to work.

Cutting a character means retooling the plot, which might be easier than what I call “nickel and diming” the manuscript. In this stage, I examine the novel, word by word, sharpening and cutting, doing things like looking for gerunds and making those verbs active to eliminate “to be” phrases. (The book is written in first-person present tense, after all, so the “ing” phrases are glaring. He is waiting . . . No. He waits.) Sound easy? A quick search shows me there are still 2,234 uses of “ing” in the novel. Examining each is time-consuming (ridiculously so, in fact), but when it comes to writing, OCD pays off. I urge you to try this.

The other thing I focus on in any revision is trying to replace narration with dialogue. Are there places where one spoken line can replace 30 words describing the action? The beauty of dialogue is that it lets readers play a role in the book. Readers bring their own images of scenes and characters to the work as they read. As a writer, I want to use that. For instance, if I tell you the refrigerator is stainless steel, that’s enough. You will paint the rest of the picture of the kitchen for me, including a stainless-steel stove and granite counter top. I strive to always utilize the reader in this way. And dialogue works best for me. (He stepped back becomes “Why are you moving away?” she asked.)

Streamlining is a lot of work but gets me to a sharper finished product. I would urge any writer to look for places where action can become statements and where gerunds can become history.


Here are some pictures from summer moments spent away from the manuscript.

Running a 5K
With Keeley, Audrey, and Delaney (from right) at Passenger concert


Donis Casey said...

What great tips! And you have a lot of grit and strength to be able to cut 20K words from your novel.

Thomas Kies said...

Nicely written!!

Anna said...

And yet, "Why are you moving away?" precisely and vividly expresses the continuity and immediacy of motion. "Why do you move away?" would be stilted, wouldn't it? (The baby, the bath water....)

Congratulations on your impressive application of bariatric surgery.