self-editing spotlight: looking around.

| Monday, May 2, 2011
Today's Tune: Dark Halls

Self-Editing Spotlight: Look Up, Down, All Around

Now that I'm rapidly approaching the nitty-gritty editing stages of my current draft, I've started really noticing my bad habits, even as I'm writing them. Once such bad habit is having my POV character (and other characters) do a lot of "looking." As in, the actual action of "looking" at something.

I looked behind me. I looked at my mother, who was reading. I heard a sound and looked around to find B sneaking up on me. I looked out to find the lake choppy and gray. He looked back at me with tired eyes. She looked for signs of entry. I looked at the shelves on my wall and tried to find the book I wanted.

During drafting, this sort of phrasing serves a (sort-of) purpose for me. It allows me to orient myself and let myself know what's around my character. It's a little thing, but it's a weak, unnecessary action that can easily get repetitive if left unchecked. When I go back through to edit after being in drafting mode (also known as "just write just write just write and get it out" mode), I really notice how often I fall back on this particular action.

While it seems harmless enough, it's actually bogging down my writing and making it boring. It's also stating the obvious. If I'm following the Point-Of-View character as a reader, then I can safely infer that anything they're telling me about is something they can see or otherwise sense. Otherwise they wouldn't be able to tell me about it, right? So it's pretty redundant for the reader to be told the character can see it because they're looking at it.

When you're editing your work, if you come across any instances where a character is "looking" at someone or something, ask yourself if the phrasing is necessary. If at all possible, cut the use of the phrase "I/she/he looked" and revise to create a stronger action.

For example, instead of, "I looked at the shelves on my wall and tried to find the book I wanted," which is over-wordy and weak, I could revise to, "My fingers skimmed the shelves until I found the book I wanted" or something similar. Something that makes my character more active, rather than passive. You don't have to cut every instance -- sometimes the phrasing is necessary -- but most of the time, it can go.

Aaaaaand that's your self-editing tip for the day :) What words/phrases/oopsies do you find sneak in to your drafts?


{ Phoebe } at: May 2, 2011 at 10:12 AM said...

Great post--I was just going to do one for my writing group's blog on easy self-editing.

My big thing is adverbs. Easy way to fix it? Do a search for "ly." When you find a pesky adverb, see if you can just change to a stronger verb instead.

{ LV Cabbie } at: May 2, 2011 at 3:23 PM said...

Try looking up an article Slice and Dice your work
by Joe Moore. it helped me a whole lot when it came to the editing process.

{ Susan Kaye Quinn } at: May 2, 2011 at 5:50 PM said...

I have several "crutches" that I use in my first-drafting, but it's cool. I see them on the next draft, when I can focus on crafting something lovely to replace them.

{ aspiring_x } at: May 2, 2011 at 7:55 PM said...

yes!! my characters look alot too! ugh! but also- my dialogue is just, you know, like, seriously full of unneccessary words! eeks!

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