Wednesday Word: Killing “It”

Yes, I know it’s actually Thursday, but due to Blogger’s amazing post options capability, I am able to manipulate the time-space continuum and pretend that it’s still Wednesday. Ah, the power…

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I am not a fan of it.

Hmmm, that didn’t come out quite right. I am a great fan of It, as you might imagine from my propensity to write about It.

Let’s try that again. I am not a fan of the pronoun it. While it has its uses (wink), much of the time, a writer can make a sentence both more precise and less wordy by avoiding the it.

The most notable example of how using the word it weakens your writing and increases your word count is the it was construction (along with its friendly corollary there was, but I digress).

It was obvious from his tight-lipped frown and narrowed eyes that he was angry.

There’s nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, of course, but it’s much wordier than necessary. Eliminate the it was and you wind up with something much clearer and more immediate:

His tight-lipped frown and narrowed eyes communicated his anger.

The other overuse of it I have to watch for in my own writing and eliminate with ruthless precision is the it for which the antecedent isn’t immediately obvious.

Safe in the suburbs, it was hard for me to identify with either side of the argument.

Again, the grammar’s fine here, but the it doesn’t really have a clear antecedent. It’s a pronoun without an idea or concept behind it. Now, this is the way people talk and think, so I can see an argument for keeping the sentence as it is. Notwithstanding, I think it’s better like this:

Safe in the suburbs, I found it hard to identify with either side of the argument.

I think it’s better for two reasons:

1. It’s less wordy, and
2. The sentence is more active, with a person actually doing the action of the verb.

So, what do you think of it? Do you want to keep it or kill it? Any examples from your own writing you’d like to share? Spill!

Wednesday Word: On Wasted Words

So, you’re getting ready to submit your manuscript. You’ve smoothed out all the inconsistencies in the plot, layered in emotion and backstory where appropriate, etc. What else can you do to make your story stand head and shoulders above the rest?

Don’t waste words!

Seems obvious, I’m sure, but from my experience in editing both other people’s mansucripts and my own, it’s harder than it sounds. I’m not talking here about those pesky -ly words that seem to slip in and expand the word count without adding much to the meaning. You already got those, I’m sure!

No, I’m talking mostly about these four verbs:

Watch/watched
Feel/felt
See/saw
Notice/noticed

Now, of course I’m not suggesting you never use these words in your writing. But in your final round of polishing, I do recommend searching for them in your manuscript and making sure each and every one is necessary. That there isn’t another way you could construct the sentence that would be snappier and more direct.

Here is an example of what I mean (and no, they’re not taken from any of my manuscripts or any that I’ve read–I made ’em all up just for the purpose of this post).

Mary dropped into the chair with a sigh of resignation. She watched John pace the floor, his brow furrowed in thought.

This isn’t horrendous, but since we’re Mary’s point of view, anything reported in the narrative is something she’s watching (or seeing or noticing or feeling…). The fact that she’s watching John is a given, so why not just report what she’s watching? Not only does the phrase “she watched” impart no useful information to the reader, it actually distances the reader from the scene by placing the emphasis on Mary’s act of watching rather than on what John is doing.

The same logic applies to the verbs “see,” “notice,” and “feel.” Though they’re useful and even essential at times, it’s important to evaluate whether their use is adding to the reader’s understanding and immersion in the scene or detracting from it.

No writer is immune from using these words when they’re not needed. Knowing that, I’m taking extra care to comb through my manuscripts for offenders and deleting them with ruthless efficiency.

YOUR TURN: What word or words do you realize you tend to “waste?” Do you notice wasted words in other people’s writing (including my post above, lol)? Remember, sharing is caring!

Who Has Time to Write?

Let alone blog!

Before I started trying to get published, it never occurred to me how much work goes into a book after you finish writing it. And even after you’ve sold it and then, after you’ve published it.

When you’re deep in the trenches, fingers flying (or inching) over the keyboard, it’s easy to forget that writing is a business. Production, I’m finding, is but a fraction of the total work that goes into a book. Granted, it a large fraction and the sine qua non of getting your manuscript in print, but the other stuff can be remarkably time-consuming.

What does the other stuff consist of? Well, let’s do a run-down:

Querying/Submitting

Depending on whether you’re submitting to an agent or editor and what that agent/editor’s crieteria are, this can mean anything from mailing a brief letter (whether by email or snail mail) to putting together a cover letter, partial, and synopsis to sending out the whole shebang.

I have to admit to being somewhat spoiled by Cobblestone’s submission criteria. All they want is a brief cover letter and the manuscript in .rtf format. So, so easy. But this week, I decided to take the plunge and query some other folks. And, to my amazement, I got some requests, which brings me to…

Responding to Requests

If an agent or editor you query with something less than your full manuscript likes it, then you have the exciting but no less time-consuming task of putting together whatever items the agent/editor wants and sending them out. This week, I sent out one complete copy of a manuscript to an editor and a “proposal” consisting of a cover letter, author bio, synopsis, and first three chapters to an agent. And since both of them wanted printed copies, this meant long hours at the computer, watching the inkject to make sure it didn’t jam and reprinting pages that did.

And we won’t discuss the little matter of actually writing that synopsis, which I hadn’t bothered to do before that point. Fortunately, I find synopsis-writing somewhat easier than book-writing, so I was able to knock it out in a couple of hours, but it was still a piece of work that interfered with “real” writing.

Filling Out Paperwork

Okay, so let’s say you are lucky enough to get an offer of representation from an agent or a contract for a sale from a publisher. Well, it’s not over yet, peeps!

You’ve got the read the contract, sign it (or not), and send it back. And then, at least in the case of a sale, there are other forms you may have to fill out. At Cobblestone, for example, we have to complete a Book Information Form (which includes things like your website blurbs, loglines, and so forth) and an Cover Art Form (the bane of my existence, wherein you try to explain to an artist what your characters look like and how you envision the cover).

Editing

Much as we’d all like to believe the reason an editor or agent accepted our book was because it was perfect, the fact is, that’s rarely the case. So barring some incredible stroke of good luck, chances are very good that after you sell your painstakingly revised and polished manuscript, you’ll have the pleasure of doing it again. And again. And again.

At Cobblestone, we do three rounds of edits. The first round is usually the heaviest, and while my manuscripts are usually pretty clean overall, they’re still not perfect and I’m grateful for the editors who check my grammar, punctuation, and the flow of the story (was it six months or eight? is she wearing a T-shirt or a sweater?) to make sure I don’t look like a complete idiot.

And while so far, I’ve had the good fortune not to have to make any significant changes to a manuscript during the editing phase, it still gobbles up plenty of “writing” time.

Promotion

This is the big one. It’s the big one because it never goes away. If people don’t know about your book, they can’t buy it. So you have to be constantly on the lookout for opportunities to get the word out.

Which is why I am supposed to be blogging at least once a week, among other things, lol!

But you can see why I don’t get around to it as much as I’d like. There are only so many hours in a day and if I’m going to have any to actually write, I have to steal from somewhere. And so I steal from the job that never ends!

However, starting this Wednesday, I’m going try adding a new “weekly” feature to my blog which I’m tentatively calling Wednesday’s Word. Tessa Dare has TMI Tuesday and loads of folks do the Thursday Thirdteen, so I thought I’d spawn my own “catchy weekday blog posting theme.” Since, as a writer, my business is words, I thought it might be fun to talk about them a little more.

So tune in Wednesday for the first installment!

Speaking of Promotion

From now until Valentine’s Day, the Manuscript Mavens are running a Choose Your Own Adventure® story, in which YOU vote on what happens next! Every morning brings a new author, from the Mavens to the just-sold, to the best-selling. And every night brings a new twist!

Get your Choose Your Own Adventure® votes in by 7:00pm EST (4:00pm PST) and you’ll be eligible for random prize drawings, where you can win books by our Guest Mavens! Vote every day, and you’ll even be eligible for the Grand Prize.

Mavens’ Valentine’s Day Gift to You

I know, I’ve been very remiss at blogging of late. I blame Deanna. She keeps contracting the stuff I send Cobblestone Press, making me fill out the corresponding paperwork and simultaneously encouraging me to write more! If you didn’t notice already in the sidebar, the sequel to Carnally Ever After will be out sometime in May. Wickedly Ever After is the story of how two secondary characters in the first story, the extraordinarily dissolute Marquess of Grenville and the very chaste and proper Miss Eleanor Palmer, find their own happy ending.

Now that the news is out of the way, it’s on to promo!

From now until Valentine’s Day, the Manuscript Mavens are running a Choose Your Own Adventure® story, in which YOU vote on what happens next! Every morning brings a new author, from the Mavens to the just-sold, to the best-selling. And every night brings a new twist!

Get your Choose Your Own Adventure® votes in by 7:00pm EST (4:00pm PST) and you’ll be eligible for random prize drawings, where you can win books by our Guest Mavens! Vote every day, and you’ll even be eligible for the Grand Prize. (More info: here.)