Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tipsy Tuesday

In 1878 Mark Twain wrote in a letter to his brother Orion:

"You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by."

And to D.W. Bowser in 1880:

"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."

What was he saying? Rewriting is a necessary part of writing a novel (or any other work of words). William Shakespeare claimed to never have "blotted a line" while Gustave Flaubert polished and polished and polished so much so that his editors pretty much had to say "Enough already!" and pry the manuscript from his hands.

In my opinion (and, apparently, in Mark Twain's as well) it's only through rewriting that you can achieve the unbroken flow required to hold readers' attention. Each rewrite should pare more unnecessary verbiage from your manuscript--whittling it down to simple but powerful language that's easy to understand. If your readers have to keep picking up their dictionaries, you're going to lose them. Fast.

And one more Mark Twainism - "I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me--and this adverb plague is one of them... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't." (A reply to a Boston Girl, 1880)

So, to do away with adverbs means something like this: "Walk silently" becomes "crept"; "walked heavily" becomes "lumbered"; "gaze moved quickly" becomes "gaze darted", etc.

I hope this was helpful. :)

P.S. I watched a rerun of Stargate SG1 last night and cried a bit for the loss of Don S. Davis. It was the episode where Master Bra'tak comes to the SGC and is introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Weir, who's just taken over as leader of the facility. Bra'tak looks at Daniel and asks, "Has Hammond of Texas fallen in battle?"



Colleen Love said...

Hi Sherrill,

I'm sorry for the loss of your beloved Don S. Davis. I know it can make you feel so hollow when someone you admire and respect is gone. :(

Thanks for your words of wisdom (your 'wow'). I am finding that tucking that finished story away for a few weeks and then rereading it helps too! : )

Hope you find joy in your day today!


Sherrill Quinn said...

Hey, Colleen. Thanks--I always enjoyed the character of General Hammond and I think it was a richer character because of the man who portrayed him.

I usually try to set a manuscript aside for a couple of weeks, too, so I have a bit of distance (memory-wise) when I go back over it. Sadly, I'm pushing up to the wire on my Kensington deadline and I don't think I'll have that luxury this time around. I'm still trying to finish the last chapter. But I'm close--hopefully tonight!

Hope you had a good day. :)

Colleen Love said...

Wow, so exciting! It's getting closer!! I'm always so excited to see friends realize their goals, no matter how large or small. : )

I'm still in the learning stages, I think. Don't think I'm ready to play with the big kids, yet. lol. Even though I already have two publishers, I will know I'm getting closer when one goes through to Ellora's Cave or Cerridwen Press. hehe : ) Silly, huh? lol

Sherrill Quinn said...

Colleen, it's not silly at all. Ellora's Cave is arguably the largest erotic romance e-pub out there. I felt like I'd finally "arrived" when I had my first story accepted by them, so I know exactly what you mean!

Just keep learning, hon, and you can get there. :)