You may have noticed things have been a little quiet on the blogging front for me recently. Or maybe you haven’t. (What, you mean you haven’t been sat by your computer awaiting my next exciting instalment with baited breath?).
Well, let me explain…
What can I say? Life is busy. I landed a job as a media content intern at one of the biggest online digital marketing companies in the land (whoop), the old love life has taken a rather unexpected turn (also whoop), and my dissertation deadline is looming (not whoop, not whoop at all).
The good news is that I’ve made the word count for hand in – 19k words for my freak show story, 4k for the puppet one. However on my lunch break I am popping to the shops to purchase some printer ink and a very ominous red pen. Let the editing commence…
Some say editing is the most important part of writing. Like in a big creative rush you have created this beautiful blob of a thing that means well but really it doesn’t make a whole load of sense, so the editing part is where you sculpt it down into something manageable, something that people can actually understand. Editing has to be brutal.
No one understood this more than big dawg George Orwell when he wrote his now famous six rules of writing…
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.
These golden rules are invaluable for crafting the language of your story and giving thought to your choice of words. The surface of your story is equally as important as what the story is about. I remember at one of the recent publishing talks I attended one of the top cheeses mentioned that ‘style is narrative’, which resonated with me and makes a lot of sense when you consider this with Orwell’s rules.
Kurt Vonnegut also compiled a list of the elements in a story he believed to be most important. Whilst dealing with much broader themes than Orwell, these sentiments are equally as relevant when it comes to making your story as good as it can possibly be.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I particularly like number seven. Often as new writers we try to please everyone at once. If you read back your story and think ‘hey, I actually like this!’ then chances are other people will too. Unless you’re a total weirdo, in which case you probably don’t care what other people think anyway.
And so I go, equipped with Kurt and George’s rules bouncing around my brain and a hungry red pen, into the dark cave of editing and hope to emerge with something beautiful…or at least readable. Remember folks, if all else fails stick a few positive messages on your wall and you’ll get through.