Polish, Deepen, Hone

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, gearing up to ignore the short days and darkness of the coming month.

I’m doing that by keeping really, really busy. Today I’m incorporating all the red ink I added over the last week during my last (I hope…I truly hope) paper read-through of Turning the Tide, Quaker Midwife Mystery #3.
Some of my comments to myself are edits with a goal of polishing the language. Split the long sentence into two. Divide that paragraph in a different place, because the last sentence really belongs with the next para. Make sure all the senses play a role.

Some are plot related: on page 94 one scribble says, “Why didn’t she think of this when she found the body?” – which happens on page 6. Oops, but fixable.

Of course there are also the missing periods, redundant words, and unclear wording to fix. Other bits to sharpen and hone.

A few of my remarks relate to research for this book, which is set during presidential election week in 1888 (I know – great timing!). For example, I described a road covered with planks, not cobblestones, which was a method of temporary paving back then. But I realized during the read-through that I don’t know if the planks go crosswise or lengthwise and I need to check on that.

I read a great craft post last week over on Inkspot, the Midnight Ink writers’ blog (where I blog every second Thursday of the month) that really made me think.  inkspotheaderLisa Alber wrote about sense of place. She says, “You know when you hear readers say that they skip the descriptions? I would bet in most cases, those descriptions are static — just the author describing the environment around the character rather than describing the environment through the character.”

That’s so true! I’m sure I’ve thought about it in the past, and been taught it, but imbuing setting with my character is something I have to learn over and over. Lisa gives a few great examples of the same setting – sunshine streaming in a kitchen window and illuminating a spider web – as seen through different characters’ eyes. Go read the post. You’ll see what I mean.

So as I move through my manuscript, I’m also going to take a look at every single place description and deepen it. I’m going to make sure it has a reason to exist: showing us how midwife Rose Carroll is feeling. I can show another character’s reaction to place, too, as long as it’s through dialog or physical reaction, since this story is told exclusively from Rose’s point of view.

Thanks, Lisa, for pushing the end of my revision process a little further away. I know checking for sense of place will improve the book in the end, and that’s what counts.

Readers: What do you do with a beautiful description of setting that is only that? Skip it or enjoy the rich language? Writers, is making sure that setting is filtered through your character’s eyes already part of your revision list? Do you ever slip up?

19 Thoughts

  1. There’s a point in the editing where the next thing you cut, thinking it superfluous (a great old Quaker word, by the way) is what readers love the most. And as for what you love the most? It can be what gets in the way.
    A 16-year-old beta reader just had me cut a paragraph from the opening chapter of my newest novel manuscript. Hurt me to do so, but she was so right.
    My feeling about the scene in question is to leave it unless it’s really too purple. There’s more to a story than plot, and if a sentence or paragraph keeps the feeling vivid and flowing, it has value.

  2. I keep learning new and valuable things about the writing process. Honestly, until I’ve read about many of these topics that were foreign to me as a reader, I never really thought about them. I just read a post today about something called “head-hopping.” That was new to me and now I’ll probably be on the lookout for it when I read going forward. Until now I’ve always appreciated a beautiful description of setting, not even considering whether or not it was told through the eyes of a character. When I read I like to visualize surroundings so I consider it a plus to read about descriptions of setting. I’ve never skipped this when reading that I can recall. (Although I was tempted to do this when a pretty popular novel I read took an entire chapter to describe the workings of a lighthouse. Too much description, even for me. May not be exactly the same thing, but I thought it was similar enough to mention.) Lisa Abler’s blog post was very interesting. Thanks for sharing it. Never knew how much goes into the writing process. Unfortunately, the more I know, the more critical I might become?? Hopefully not. I guess it’s better to be an informed reader. It might make my book reviews more beneficial. ( :

    1. Isn’t it cool to learn about the inner workings? I remember as a beginning fiction writer learning about point of view, and thinking, Wow. I never thought about that! The great Louise Penny breaks that rule all over the place – but she does it with such brilliance she pulls it off. I hope we don’t make you TOO critical a reader.

      1. Actually, that is one reason (out of many) that her books drive me crazy and I gave up after the second one.

  3. I try for enough description that the reader can be “in” the place and try use it to deepen character (how is the character reacting to the place). I’m not always successful. Fortunately, my critique group calls me on superfluous description.

    I’ll hang with the description for a while, but if it goes on too long I start to get bored. My father, though – he’ll stop reading the book, period.

  4. I think the amount of description I can tolerate depends on the quality of the writing. But even with excellent writing I might skip some of it if it goes on too long. And thankfully, Barb Goffman, who edits my manuscripts will write “boring” when I go on too long about something. Thanks for sharing Lisa’s post! It reminds me of a quote by Anton Chekhov I keep on my desk: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

  5. I’ll read description until it gets in the way of the story. As Sherry just said, if it goes on to long, I start looking for the action again. And if we get a great paragraph of description in the middle of an intense scene, I’m going to skip right past, probably without realizing it, because I need to see what happens next.

  6. I hate it when I’m editing and I stumble over a sentence that I wrote and it makes no sense to me. Why did I write that? What did I have in mind? I may never know.

    There is a street in Philadelphia which is home to a long-standing readers’ club (I once gave a talk there). The small street has always been paved with cobbles made of wood, cut cross-grain, so the noise of the horses passing by wouldn’t disturb the readers.

  7. Edith, thank you for a very inspiring post. I loved the link to Lisa’s equally inspiring post. Perfect pieces to read as I tackle edits for my book three!

  8. I’m a character-driven reader so if I’m reading a character’s reaction to a setting or situation then I’m engaged. If it’s description for description’s sake, I go into skim mode.

  9. Love your blog! Oops. Just imagine that apostrophe. It’s always great to see someone elses red ink. Great reminders, too. And the Inkspot blog was so helpful. We read how to do it. We try to feed the descriptions properly, but the blog clarifies it more. Thanks for sharing.

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