Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


YOU are the director of your manuscript.
The characters don't do a thing unless script calls for it.  And yea, you are not only the director, but you're the writer and also the editor!  In fact, you're running this whole production.  So don't let the characters run amok in your manuscript.

And as writers putting together our manuscript, we're kinda lucky because unlike motion picture studios, we don't have to deal with temperamental actors and actresses in real life.  Our characters do what we say, and we also don't have to endure mouthing off to us  simply because some over-paid actor or actress feels like having a Sheen-tastic "winning" moment.  We don't get the stress over threats from the production staff to go on strike.  In fact, our characters had best do what we tell the them to do, because we also have the wonderful ability to fire them at will, or extinguish them forever from our book with either the strike of the delete key or with a swipe from the eraser.  Yea, we wield that type of power!

Don't be afraid to use it.

You may know the next scene in your manuscript, and how it plays out if you're like me and you are an "outliner" (one who meticulously drafts the book, carefully crafting each chapter or scene), or you could be a writer called a "pantser" who follows their gut feeling and artistic inspiration.  Neither approach is right or wrong, it's all just a matter of artistic license.  I've read fabulous books by both "outliners" and "pantsers".  Go with what works for you.  However, both "outliners" and "pantsers" alike have to deal with the frightening possibility of egads....superfluous words suddenly appearing in the manuscript.

I'm as guilty of this as each of you are, also so don't think I'm getting all preachy on you, or that I'm going to attempt to walk across Lake Lanier any time soon.

So how do we avoid the horror and proactively deal with the unnecessary garbage which falls into our manuscripts? We learn from the mistakes of others, in this case, we learn from my mistake!

Look we all hit a wall, and sometimes when this happens we do stupid stuff.

Really stupid stuff.

Like this:

Or  like this..writing more dialogue when you are stuck.  And this is the suck-a-licious mistake I made (that word was first coined at the 2010 Red Clay Writers' Conference..I didn't make it up!).

Believe it or not,  I was once advised by someone (and I no longer really follow the advice of that someone) "Look, Joey when you hit a wall just keep on writing dialogue until the story gets back on track."  

And let me tell you, it was a train wreck.  A disaster.  Sort of like this cinematic representation:

I took this ridiculous advice and let me tell you, like Lady Liberty above, a wall of words just came crashing down upon me like a wave of idiocy, and inundated my poor manuscript with a lot of nothingness, stagnation, and silliness  It was in the end, a bunch of...

which ran me over, ran over the plot, and any good points I had actually made at all in my manuscript.

Thus I had to take the bull by the horns and turn it around, and lead the beast out of my novel.  There is no room for bull in my book.  By the way,  I did this about two months ago.  It took the sudden realization that not every single word really is needed to make the plot work.  Not every nuance or thought which filters into the head of the main character needs to be mentioned.  My sister, an awesome writer, reminded me to "show the readers what is going on".  Don't explain every little detail, SHOW them!

So I went back to the very beginning, and began to cut..and I won't lie, it was painful in the beginning, but some of the software I use in writing helps soften this blow, as it allows me to put in asides on virtual note cards, so I have even more fabulous back story which will either come into play later in the novel, or can be whipped out in the sequel to aid in greater depth of character.  

I cut..and cut..and cut some more.  Soon, I was able to IDENTIFY what needed to be cut and what didn't.  It became less painful, until it wasn't anything but a tap of the delete button.

So what DO you cut?  Here's a few tips:
  • dialogue which does not advance the action
  • superfluous language which do not help create scene, plot, or atmosphere
  • words which do not create depth of character
My sister summed it up rather succinctly, and said, "Don't have them talking because you have a lull in the plot, or don't know what's coming next."

She advised me to instead, when I hit that creative wall (as we all do, sometime) to stop writing, go for a run or walk, or go read something else.  Watch the news.  Walk the dog.  But most importantly she told me to quit looking for a quick fix, that inspiration comes for us when we least expect it (like when we're walking the dog).  In my opinion, some of my best ideas and plot twists have come from doing mindless activities, so sis is right.

So when the action in our manuscript isn't just right, or the feel isn't there, just stop.  Say CUT and take a step back and wait.  Shut down the production for a bit, and go seek some quiet spot or as we discussed above, find a fun or mindless activity and wait for the inspiration to return.  

Maybe you're almost done with your manuscript, and if so that's great!  So now is the time to go back through the plot and see what is needed and what isn't.  I'm sure you can always find a few lines to cut here or there.

Our goal is to make our manuscript flow for the work to tell a complete story, not some disjointed, awkward, and pointless tale.  Don't write dialogue because you don't know what else to do.  If you need help with this, imagine the characters in an endless boring conversation.  Would you want to see that in a movie?  Duh..I don't think so.

You're the director, you're in the chair, you call the shots.  Don't be afraid to say cut!
That's a wrap.

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