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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Editing tips - Every which way

Ups and downs of writing action can’t be overstated. Sometimes, the writer overwrites and overuses words without realizing it.

Here’s an example from an early draft ms I received.
Taking his chances, Rick slipped upwards around a steep pathway of rugged rocks. It was a close call as shot after shot split the air near to his body. The pressure only relieving when he heard the heavy sound of John’s Sharps taking up the action from below. Shots echoed up the hillside as John, recovered now, picked his favoured spots and blasted the crest of the hilltop where he guessed the sharpshooter hid. He left the way clear for Rick to rise and clamber up over the edge of the hilltop.

Exciting, but it needed a little work.
Taking his chances, Rick slipped around a steep pathway of rugged rocks. Shot after shot split the air close by. The pressure only lessened when he heard the heavy sound of John’s Sharps taking up the action. Shots echoed as John, obviously recovered now, picked his favoured spots and blasted the crest of the hilltop. That left the way clear for Rick to rise and clamber up over the crest of the hill.

So what did I change?
I removed: upwards, It was a close call, near to his body, relieving, up the hillside, where he guessed the sharpshooter hid. The latter removed because it’s making an assumption about what John was thinking and slows down the action. There may be countless ways the passage could be rewritten to improve it further, but the editor isn’t in the business of rewriting, just improving the narrative flow and identifying errors of spelling, word usage and internal story logic.

Here’s another excerpt:
Rick staggered. He heard the loud screech of complaining timber over the sounds from below and he felt the gantry shift as aged support ropes beneath him snapped. The barrow that held him began to slide dangerously as the platform tilted. He struggled to clamber over the sides, but the steep angle of descent made it difficult. It appeared that Rick was heading for a messy death among the remains of the mining sheds far below.

Again, a good action set piece.
Rick staggered. He heard the loud screech of complaining timber over the sounds of the gunfight and he felt the gantry shift as aged support ropes snapped. The barrow that held him began to slide dangerously as the platform tilted. He struggled to clamber over the sides, but the steep angle of descent made it difficult. He was heading for a messy death among the remains of the mining sheds far below.

Here we had over, below, beneath, tilted, over, steep, descent, below… Too many directions. By simply getting rid of a couple, it’s a little less haywire, I felt. Note I also removed ‘It appeared that’ which tends to jump out of Rick’s POV.

2 comments:

David Cranmer said...

I love these tips of yours, Nik. Keep 'em coming.

Nik said...

Thanks, David. The tips aren't too difficult to dredge up, it's just the time to write them down!