Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Getting it right

by Dietrich Kalteis

"Do you ever find yourself over-using certain words in a first draft? What do you do to avoid or correct that?”

Initially I just want to get the idea of the story down. Characters are developing and ideas are taking shape. Early on I’m more concerned with the broader strokes, like the flow of the overall story than I am with over-using certain words.

Having said that, I try to avoid unnecessary description, adjectives, adverbs, run-ons, overused prepositions, and anything that doesn’t need to be there. Although there are times I intentionally repeat words for effect, rhythm or emphasis, and I like to bend the grammar rules and use fragmented sentences and present-participle endings when I feel it adds to the sense of tone and pace. 

When I’m writing a scene, I just want to get through it, especially when I’m on a roll. At this stage I don’t want to pulled from that groove by fretting about misspelled and overused words or repeated lines. I want to convey the overall feel of the scene. I can catch mistakes later when I reread the chapter, something I often do out loud. 

Tics, cliches and overused words might be okay in a character’s dialog, but it’s different when these things show up in the narrative.

Simple words and expressions keep with the rhythm of what I’m writing, and I try to avoid anything that might pull a reader from the story. George Orwell said never use a long word where a short one will do. And if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. And Stephen King said, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.”

One thing I fuss over are character names. I’m obsessed with getting them right, and when I start a story I name them as they appear. As I work from one draft to the next, sometimes a better or more suitable name comes to me as these fictitious folks get fleshed out. Then I have to go searching the manuscript to make sure I’ve made the changes throughout.

The same goes for attributing something to a character. I may alter details as the story takes shape, and I have to be careful to catch these changes throughout too — like if I give somebody a different car or alter the way they look or dress. I don’t want to depend on the sharp eyes of my editor to catch details that I’ve missed. And it’s amazing how easily something can slip through the cracks. Every writer’s nightmare is seeing a mistake once the story’s in print.

It’s not easy to pull myself away from a work in progress, but it helps if I put the story away between the second and third drafts, and leave it for a week or so before going back to it. I reach a point where I can get blind to my own words. After the third draft, when I’m usually down to catching the odd spelling mistake or grammatical error, I’ve learned to recognize that it’s time to let it go, send it out, and move on — that point before I start overworking the story.

First readers and editors bring fresh eyes and are great at catching anything I passed over. And it’s amazing how I can sometimes go over the same goof-up and miss it. These folks are like a safety net, and I’m very grateful to have them around.


Paul D. Marks said...

Sounds like your approach and mine are similar, if not the same, Dieter. To me it's all about getting down the general story in the first draft/s and then honing them on each successive draft.

Unknown said...

The edit is the best part, to me. I'm always changing names too. And most recently, changing a cigarette to a doobie. It's my party, right? :)

RJ Harlick said...

I do the same thing with names and invariably find myself doing endless word searches to ensure all traces of the old name are gone. But sometimes I slip up and on one or two occassions found the original name unchanged in the final proof. Good post, Dieter.

Unknown said...

How old was Orwell when he wrote that about the Thesaurus? Not old enough to keep thinking, "Damn, it's right on the tip of my tongue.!"

Susan C Shea said...

One aspect of this that I am trying to catch even on the first draft is cliche expressions. My first agent was excellent at pointing them out and I was ashamed how often they crept in. I'm getting better, but I have found it's easier to not write them in the first place rather than to sniff them out later.