Friday, March 10, 2006

AH: Stainless Steel Prose

I’ve been third-drafting, which is about halfway through the process for me. I’m plugging minor plot holes, deepening character, wiping out weasel words, and polishing. Every draft after the first includes polishing.

And you know what? Maybe it’s because my publisher asked me to submit this book in double-spaced manuscript copy (I usually work in single space, so my computer screen looks like an actual book page), but when I look at my highly polished words sitting in that sea of white space, they look so . . . naked. Plain. Bottom-line basic.

Hardly an adverb to be found. Very few metaphors. All those delicious turns of phrase that I so admire in others’ writing are not found in my prose (well, not often). When I look at one of my paragraphs, I see people talking, thinking, doing. Not much else.

For instance, chosen at random from the WIP:

Isabel returns the trash can to its hiding place in the desk’s kneehole, then
lifts her gaze to the wide windows along the east wall. A sprinkling of lights
still sparkles in the skyscrapers of Tampa’s downtown district, a waste of
electricity no one seems to mind. The sun has begun to rise, but only a glimmer
of light penetrates the cloudy eastern horizon. Carlos warned her to be careful
on the way home because a storm is on its way, a huracán.

See what I mean? Nothing fancy. Simple writing. Probably on a third grade level.

But, after publishing more than 100 books and developing strong opinions about what I like and what I don’t (just ask any of my writing students!), my writing is what it is. Still changing, still adapting to the tone of each book and its characters, but probably more utilitarian than ornamental. More stainless steel than gold.

But stainless steel can sing. I know this because even in the third draft, I listen to each scene at least twice. I note the rhythm of the words, the flow of the punctuation. Maybe it’s my musical background, but my ear flags repetitions and vowel sounds. and rhythms If a word doesn’t fit seamlessly, it gets tossed out and replaced. After about five drafts, I happily hand the project over to my editor, who will refine my "steel" even further.

While I stand in awe of metaphorical masters and literary linguists, I don’t think I was meant to join their ranks. Which is okay. We do what we were created to do, and that’s what makes the world such an interesting place.

So--whatever you've been gifted to write, stay at the forge.

Angela Hunt uses either Microsoft Reader or Monologue 97 to have the computer read her work back to her. The monotonous voice is a great help. If a passage sings when that robotic computer reads it, it flat sings.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger lisa said...

I love this, Angie. And hey, great metaphor, the forge. I thought you said you didn't use them? :-)

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Angela said...

LOL! Sometimes those sneaky metaphors sneak in anyway! They're always slipping under the door and crawling through the window screen . . . :-)

At 10:51 AM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

They're always slipping under the door and crawling through the window screen . . . wordy weasels with adverbial snouts, creeping like the last bit of syrup on cold pancakes, like the unwelcome uncle at Thanksgiving, like the cold, hard slap of the wind when it approaches like a boxer staggering out for the Fourth Round. Ah, the first draft! Like a mountain range peaked with snow and rimmed with clouds, obscuring the flora and fauna of story waiting like a bridesmaid for the narrative hunk who caught the garter while Similie and Metaphor got married, all smiles, like the chorus line at Radio City Music Hall at Easter.

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

While I don't write like you, I love what and how you write.

A beautiful reminder to be who we are as writers. Thank you, Angie.


Post a Comment

<< Home