She Gleefully Removes the Adverbs

I decided I ought to post some writing samples on my blog so you will find the first one below . It is a complete short story of only 295 words. It was originally 300 words but on rereading it just now I have removed another five words, adverbs mainly. That’s one of the common mistakes that I make when I am writing fiction: too many adverbs. I try and cut out as many as possible during the redrafting because I think a peppering of adverbs makes my writing appear amateurish. In The Witch, I had an “explained pleasantly”, “peered tentatively” and a “wound itself affectionately.” Now that I have removed the superfluous adverbs I think it reads better.

The Witch

Everybody knew Ms Penfold was a witch. She dressed in a black cloak and stalked through the forest at dusk gathering ingredients for her potions in a wicker basket. My dad said he had seen her dancing in her garden at midnight, and she had a black cat.

Playing in the street one afternoon, I was drawn towards Ms Penfold’s house by an eerie voice crying “Help!” from the untamed garden. Was it a child locked in the shed that Ms Penfold was fattening up to cook? I peered over the hedge and saw Ms Penfold sprawled in a tangle of black cloth and branches on the ground. “You child, please help me,” she called. “I’ve sprained my ankle.”

I wondered vaguely if it was a trick to lure me into the witch’s den but, before my troubled brain could intervene, my feet were already carrying me towards the beckoning woman.

The folds of the austere black cloak masked a surprisingly slight frame. I could support Ms Penfold easily as she limped back into the house. As we came through the back door, the sleek black cat wound itself around our ankles and purred.

The air in the house was ripe with the sickly sweet scent of blossoms. The aroma diffused out of vibrantly coloured flowers and herbs, strung upside down from a wooden pulley to dry.

“They’re for my home made remedies,” Ms Penfold explained, sweeping a hand towards a large cauldron dominating the fireplace. “Do you know there is a natural cure for most ailments? Now, where is my arnica for this ankle…?”

That evening I told my parents about finding Ms Penfold injured in the bushes. “Pah!” snorted my dad. “She probably fell off her broom.”

 

Dialogue

If you read as many author interviews as I do then you will probably already know that many writers recommend that you read your dialogue out loud to check that it flows well. Good advice. However, I would like to add that this does not mean that your dialogue should sound natural. Why? Because people talking naturally scatter their sentences with all sorts of unnecessary words such as: right, OK, well, really, ah, um etc. There is no place for these words in your dialogue. Keep it tight. Examine every line of speech you have written and if there is a way of expressing the same sentiment in fewer words, do it.

Here is an example of some shoddy dialogue taken from my own writing:

“Well hurry up, or we’ll miss the show,” Julie called.

“OK, I’ll be there in a minute,” I yelled back. I turned to Russ. “I’m really sorry. I’ve got to go now.”

“That’s OK,” he smiled sadly. “Thanks for visiting.”

All those meaningless words for the reader to trip over! Here’s how I made it snappier:

“Hurry up. We’ll miss the show!” Julie called

“I’ll be there in a minute,” I yelled back. I turned to Russ. “Sorry, I’ve got to go now.”

He smiled sadly. “Thanks for visiting.”

Here is another tip: don’t use dialogue where none is required. Dialogue should serve a purpose. If it is not important to the readers’ understanding of a character or does not advance the plot in some way, take it out. For example, in my novel-in-progress, I have written a scene where two characters go to a bar:

“What can I get you?” the barman asked. “A Sex on the Beach for me please,” Julie said flirtatiously. Louise would have been too embarrassed to ask for a Sex on the Beach even if she had wanted one. “Can I just have an orange juice please?” “Sure,” the barman replied.

What is the point of all those distracting quotation marks? An improvement would be:

Julie ordered a Sex on the Beach, smiling flirtatiously at the barman. Louise would have been too embarrassed to ask for a Sex on the Beach even if she had wanted one and instead asked for an orange juice.

Here is my final dialogue tip: start at the end and work backwards. If the point of a conversation is, for example, that a husband admits to his affair, write his confession first then think about what his wife could have said to make him blurt it out. If you start writing a section of dialogue where you think the beginning should be, you might find it rambling around and going off on tangents before it arrives at the crucial point. I have written lots of short stories with rambling dialogue but I’m trying to keep my blog posts short so no examples this time!

Point of View

I have somewhat ambitiously decided to write my novel from the point of view of five different characters. At this early stage, it’s all rather same-y. The characters don’t have individual voices; they are all still extensions of me.

Any writer will tell you that in order to write well you have to read. To help me get over my point of view troubles I have been thinking about books that I have read recently that were written from multiple viewpoints and have tried to identify what made them successful.

By far the best example that I can think of is A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. In this novel, each of the four main characters is a 1st person narrator. It is as though the character is addressing the reader directly, speaking to them in their own voice so that the words they use and the way they construct their sentences give an impression of that character’s age, education and personality. I’ve been writing in the 3rd person, which distances me from the characters I am writing about and makes it harder to get into their heads. Over the next few days I will experiment with the 1st person narrative to see if it helps my characters become more real and distinct from one another.

Plot

PlotI think one of the reasons that my NaNoWriMo-ing has been going so well is that I spent some time in October working out my plot. I was struggling with flow diagrams for a while before I hit on a great way to get an overview of what is happening in my novel. I took a square of paper for each scene and wrote out some notes reminding me which characters were in that scene and what piece of information had to be conveyed to the reader. I then arranged the pieces of paper in ten columns, each column representing a week in novel time.

You can see my plot pieces in the photo. The bits of paper at the bottom detail scenes that I haven’t found a place for yet. I will be able to rearrange the pieces of paper, or add and remove pieces, to reflect changes in the plot as I am writing. I believe there is writing software that allows you to do this sort of plotting electronically but I am enjoying messing around with my bits of paper. The only worry is that a rogue gust of wind might snatch them away so I am keeping the windows in my room firmly closed.