I like the terms de-had’ing and de-was’ing

I’ve been so caught up in my writing goals, I completely forgot my Friday post. First things first. 🙂 I haven’t drawn a winner for the Kitty Thomas Interview. Give me until midnight tomorrow.

On to new things! A few days ago, I made the suggestion to a writer to consider de-had’ing and de-was’ing his work. I know, I know: screw the rules!

Here’s the thing, “was” and “had” are not bad words to be avoided at all costs. However, a work bombarded by them is a bit drab. In fact, it turns into a laundry lists of descriptions and actions. Take the following example:

Jack stacked the last box and leaned against the fork lift. He had a smile as I approached. He was dressed like any other worker. He had on loose blue jeans and a white tank top. He was gorgeous. His hair was black and curly, and his eyes dark brown. He was average height, five ten and slim.

Straightforward enough. We got his stats. Good enough, right? Well, if you say so. Try this one.

Jack stacked the last box and leaned his five ten frame against the fork lift. A slight smile played on his lips, as he hooked a thumb into his blue jeans, drawing my attention to narrow hips. He’d trimmed down since I’d last seen him. The heavy lifting had devoured the chubbiness from high school and left lean muscle in its place. The white wife beater, which stretched tight against his chest, begged to be replaced with a shirt more accommodating to his growing pecs (not really, but hey! work with me). He flicked his head, and dark curly bangs lifted out of his brown eyes before settling on his broad forehead. With his olive skin, he was well on his way to becoming a Greek god.

Maybe not the best writing, but pretend like it is. 🙂 Notice I didn’t remove every “had” or “was.” Like I said, they do have their place in writing. But by weaving the descriptions within activities, those words can be reduced while livening the writing a bit. Look here. 🙂 I found a picture for you. Wanna give it a try?

She looked at the ceiling as if in deep thought. She had on a black denim dress with ruffles at the hem. Her hair was dark blond.

Chaffing Under the Rules

I’m in a couple of critique groups, which are very helpful. As a new writer, it amazed me at how little I knew. I’ve been an avid reader for all my life, going through several books a week (until recently that is). Yet reading as a reader is so different than reading as a writer. I’ve learned about show versus tell, things which distance the reader, dialogue, and so much more.

Then I started reading books with a new perspective based upon all the guidelines I learned in my critique group. And what I found was very few published authors follow these special list of rules. So then there’s this thing I keep hearing: Until you’re published, just follow the rules. After you’re published then you can break them.

Honestly, I hate this concept. It’s like setting the standard for the readers, then saying “You know what? You bought my first book, I’m sure you’ll buy my second/third/whatever regardless of the crap I spew.” Please writers, If you have the ability to produce good work, don’t give your readers crap just because you have a fan following.

On the other hand, I find the rules stifling at times. When I take off my writer’s hat and just read as a reader, I still enjoy the books even when the writer breaks the rules. Writing isn’t about following the rules; it’s about creating enjoyable content. Check out the big name authors (Stephen King, Stephanie Meyers (recently), ). They tell stories people want to read. They don’t get bogged down by how many ‘to be’ verbs are on the page.

Rules are great. But don’t let them stifle your creativity. One of the great things about writing is artistic freedom.

Working in First Person

Last week, I read Catch Me If You Can by LB Gregg, written in first person. You can read my review of it here.I spent the entire day reading instead of writing. I felt a little guilty that I didn’t even type a single word. But I have to admit, reading it was extremely productive.

One of the pieces of advice new writers receive is to read, read, read. It’s absolutely true. I’ve been working on a novel in first person narrative lately, and honestly it’s fallen kind of flat. The storyline, I love. The direction it’s going is wonderful. But honestly, the reading isn’t as lively as I’d like. I even have parts in it that I know I need to cut (entire scenes). It just wasn’t doing it for me.

Then I picked up Catch Me If You Can and another novel Somebody Killed His Editor by Josh Lanyon, both written in first person. I immediately knew what my narrative missed…internal dialogue. Now I’m not an expert, so take this for what it is. I think internal dialogue is one of the benefits of writing in first person.

With third person it’s show, show, show. If your character feels a certain way, show it–let the dialogue and actions speak for themselves. With first person, I think it’s okay to tell a little. Now when I say tell, I don’t mean tell the whole story, I meant tell what your character is thinking, but in a showy type of way. I’d been so stuck on just showing, I missed the internal dialogue…how does my character feel about the situation regardless of the emotions she’s trying to portray.

To me, third person is transparent, or it should be. The characters wear their thoughts and emotions on their sleeves, even if the hints are just hints. First person is more personal. Sure you see the transparency of the minor characters, but you also get an internal perspective of the main character. I need to concentrate on writing again. But before I edit the novel, I’m certain to read another first person novel as a reminder.

Show -Versus- Tell: Why he asked and she said.

It’s been almost two weeks since my last confession…I mean post.

Anyway, in a previous post, I mentioned that typically readers overlook dialogue tags such as ‘asked’ and ‘said.’ This time let’s look at dialogue tags from the show versus tell perspective.

For starters, descriptive dialogue tags are lazy ways to evoke a response. And it’s telling. What do I mean by descriptive dialogue tags?

  • teased
  • interrupted
  • threatened
  • pouted
  • and many more

Rather than creative dialogue tags, a writer can convey a certain feeling to the reader by showing. So, let’s look at some examples.

  • “You like that, don’t you?” Sue teased. TELLING
  • Mischief twinkled in Sue’s eyes as her lips twitched into a smile. “You like that, don’t you? SHOWING

Telling that Sue teased leaves the dialogue lacking. What about Sue was teasing? If you show, you don’t have to tell your readers; the readers can decide for themselves.

  • “But I don’t–”
    “I’ve had just about enough of this,” Bret said. SHOWING
  • “But I don’t–”
    “I’ve had just about enough of this,” Bret interrupted. TELLING

The em dash already implies an interruption. Why bother telling what’s already self-explanatory? Give your readers some respect and treat them like they can actually think for themselves.

A technique I use, since I like visuals, is to close my eyes and play out the scene. What are the characters doing while speaking? What expressions are on their faces? Then, I write it.

Sometimes writers need to trust their readers. Let the readers make up their own mind without forcing them to understand what you’re trying to tell instead of show.