Tags: Editing

Breaking habits, tics, and tweaks–critique partners required!

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 9, 2012
Categories: Craft
Comments: 2 Comments

All writers have stylistic habits.  Good ones give us that ineffable “voice.”  Bad ones require assistance to root out and destroy.  These verbal tics range from small–in my case, over use of just, upwards, the em dash, and descriptions of hair–to large ones such as over use of sentence fragments and similar sentence structures.

The tricky bit is finding our tics.  We don’t tend to notice our own habits.  Here is where critique partners and editors are invaluable.  They see what we gloss over.  Once we know where the quicksand is, we can fight back.

Part of careful revision is examining each sentence and varying the way we use language.  I love the “search” function in Pages (the Mac counterpoint to Word).  It allows me to search on “hair,” for example, and see all 127 instances in the manuscript.  I can jump from “hair” to “hair” and choose describe other facets of my characters.

Repeat this enough times, and I guarantee it will break you of the habit!  After eliminating something like a million instances of just in my first novel (okay maybe only 198), I cringe at typing the word, even when my editor wants me to add it.

But what about those big issues?

Ever tried this site: I Write Like?  You paste in a few paragraphs of your writing.  It crunches away on some sentence analysis and–POP!–out comes your writing doppleganger.  I just put in the first few paragraphs of this post and…

… I write like H.P. Lovecraft.  (That is a truly weird result!)

The point here is that we have repetitive patterns in our writing and these can be highly influenced by what we are reading or writing in other contexts.

A fascinating recent article in the New York Times by Michael Erard, describes this phenomenon which is called “structural priming” or “syntactic persistence.”

He describes it this way:

“Basically, earlier patterns in what you say or read or write “prime” you to repeat them when you’re acting automatically… Our words and sentence patterns are also primed in the same way, such that the words we chose are the words we will choose later.”

Some of the less egregious cases of “accidental” plagarism could, no doubt, be chalked up to this kind of priming.  Erard offers some excellent fixes to this problem for writers.  I want you to read the rest of his article to get them.

Getting back to the role of critique partners… I’ve often thought it would be a great exercise to try and write in the style of one of the other Scrivas.  I bet I could nail it!

And just for Emma Dryden, I promise I won’t describe anyone’s hair fanning out behind her!

Reeling in the Big Critique

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: July 27, 2011
Categories: Business of Writing
Comments: 2 Comments

Viva Scriva—that expert, well functioning, congenial, critique group. We’re so …blah, blah, blah…. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that as one of the Scrivas, I’ve been spoiled. Over the years, I’ve had just what I needed.

So I was not happy when acquisitions editors at Ooligan Press asked me to submit Blue Thread, a YA novel I’d pitched to them, to about two dozen graduate students in an editing class at Portland State University.  Ooligan is linked to PSU, so the connection made sense. But the critiquing process? I’d get a long, detailed developmental edit letter from each student—way more words in total than my entire manuscript. My work-in-progress would become my work-under-scrutiny by people who didn’t know me and had little or no experience writing YA books.

I said yes, but had my doubts. Instructor Linda Meyer, arranged a class visit. I told the students about areas in which I wanted guidance. I felt better about the process. Then I got that huge pile of letters.

Was every comment a gem? Certainly not. But as I waded through the letters, three images were particularly useful.  OK, I’m the gal that graphs manuscripts. Bear with me. Image one—the Blob. That’s my visual for the near unanimity on a specific issue. For example, heat up the romance. Image two—The tree. Most students addressed the same issue (the trunk) but branched out to widely divergent answers. Image three—spattered paint. No consensus on issue or answers. But among the spatters—which I left until last—I found odd, intriguing, creative bits I could use.

As I revised Blue Thread, I consulted the Scrivas again. Double the pleasure! The manuscript turned into a book Ooligan plans to launch in February. Last spring I practically thrust another manuscript in front of Linda’s editing class. Regardless of whether I pitch this book to Ooligan or whether Ooligan acquires it, I know a good deal when I see one.

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