I'm letting the recently completed first draft of my Appalachian novel-in progress, Them That Go, "set a spell" before I start revising it. Why do I let it "set"? So I can distance myself from it and look at it with (I hope) a fresh set of eyes. So I can notice what needs to be added or cut to make the action flow properly. So I can get rid of excess words that add nothing to the story.
When I was attempting to write children's lit, I heard this said about picture books: "Make every word earn its keep." I think that applies to all writing. If words/sentences/paragraphs don't advance the story in some way, they need to go. I use Amazon's "Look Inside" feature to check books that I might be interested in buying, but when I see excess description ("setting the scene"?) or an info dump of backstory, I stop reading. I won't waste my money on writing that consists mostly of filler. Consequently, I want to make sure my words earn their keep.
I also try to adhere to Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing. If I find I've violated a rule, I go back and fix it. His rules:
1. Never open a book with weather.
No problem here. I have mentioned the weather a few times throughout the book, but only when it impacts the characters or is important to the plot.
2. Avoid prologues.
I had one in my first self-pubbed novel. Now I know that if a story needs the information in a prologue, the information should be in the first chapter.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
Once in a while, I used "asked" or "replied." I really hate reading books where characters retort (what the heck is that, anyhow?), groan, hiss, respond, blurt, or reassure.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”. . .
…he admonished gravely.
I don't think I do that. I hate when characters respond wearily, state firmly, etc.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
I sometimes—on rare occasions—use exclamation points in dialogue when a character yells something, but only one at a time.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
Maybe in dialogue, not in narration. In Them That Go, I have a total of three suddenlys—in dialogue or inner monologue—but no hells break loose in this novel.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
This is where I have to be careful. I have one character with a strong accent, another with a not-quite-so strong accent, and several with a few regionalisms. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm trying to avoid a lot of apostrophes to mark dropped endings. Instead I'm relying on diction and syntax.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
I hate this in books I read. I think I've kept descriptions to a minimum in this book.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
I hate it when a writer takes a time-out to describe stuff that doesn't have anything to do with what's happening. Again, I think I've only used enough description to give the reader a general idea, not to bog the reader down in detail.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
I hope I've done that.
I recently read (I can't remember where I read it) that it's best not to try to edit more than 5,000 words a day. That seems reasonable. When I start actual editing, I'll do a chapter a day.
While the manuscript "sets a spell," I've been running MSWord's find feature for certain words. Yesterday, I eliminated over two dozen excess thens. Today, I eliminated a half-dozen excess soons.
Even though this book won't amount to much (it'll be self-published, so sales will be low), I still want it to be as professional as I can get it. I've already made the font decision—Garamond 11, the same font and size I used for the CreateSpace edition of Patches on the Same Quilt. Garamond is one of the most popular book fonts and very easy on the eyes. The 11-point size is also easier on the eyes and is much easier to justify correctly than a larger size that might leave holes or rivers through the text.
I've also decided the book's size will be the same as Patches on the Same Quilt—5.5 inches by 8.5 inches. I dislike reading a larger-size paperback because it requires two hands to keep it from flopping about. Also the 5.5 x 8.5 will fit into some purses, so it's more portable. To make the book's set-up as easy as possible, I'll use a formatted template I got here.
Stay tuned to this blog for further developments in the book.