Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ursula is happy

Those are three words you don't see very often.

My editing alter ego, Ursula, is not usually a jovial person. She can be difficult to work with because she demands perfection [of me especially]. Think of a tight-lipped headmistress of some high-end European girls' school: hair in a severe bun at the back of her head, half-glasses hanging from a pearl chain around her neck, she often wears gray wool and licks her thumb before turning the pages of a manuscript.

Well, for a change, she's let her hair down and put on comfy clothes because she's editing something that is...just...really good!

I won't mention the author's name or the details of the story, but I'd like to mention all the things that make an editor like Ursula giddy with delight.

1) She has yet to find an incident of 'she felt/he felt' - the story is SHOWN, not told by filtering it through the tactile sensations of the POV characters.

2) She has yet to find an instance of 'he could/she could' - characters do things, say things and be things in the immediate sense, not the probable sense of 'maybe' implied by the constant use of 'could'

3) ‘Was’ and ‘were’ are scarce. Of course they have been used but so sparingly as to be invisible. The author uses ACTION verbs nearly all the time. Nothing is benign and passive, everything moves and breathes. It's truly amazing how dynamic a narrative can be when every other verb isn't 'was'

4) The narrative is not peppered with incorrectly used semi-colons. Ursula sees this so much - a semi-colon is not a comma and should not be used in place of one.

5) The chapters have hooks! No one falls asleep, the chapters end where scenes end or major POV switches occur. They're not just arbitrary chops in the story.

6) The characters are in motion through the plot. There are no long info-dumps. Information is given in small bites throughout so the background of the characters becomes an expanding file of information, not a stew of unchewable chunks that occur while characters are sitting and staring into nothingness 'thinking' for interminable moments.

7) The author has set up questions - Ursula is wondering what happens next. The whole plot isn't evident from the get go.

8) The writing is smooth - so smooth. There are no choppy blocks of sentences designed to make the reader think choppy thoughts. There are no boggy passages of nothing designed to calm the reader. Nothing is 'designed' to do anything to the reader but carry them along through the story. Reading this is like riding one of those inner-tube raft rides - a constant, comfortable flow, no fancy tricks or games woven into the narrative.

9) There are hardly any repetitive words or phrases. No echoes. Each thought is unique.

10) Adverbs are scarce, so the ones that exist are also virtually invisible.

11) Adjectives are used well, not piled in unmanagable layers, ie 'her long wispy expensive sapphire blue satin nightgown was waving wildly in the cold salty eastern ocean breeze...'

12) Characters don't do three or four things at once. Each action occurs in sequence. He didn't 'put on his shoes as he walked toward the door while dialing his cell phone as the bell rang alerting him to the fact that he felt cold.'

13) Sentence structure is varied. Not everything begins with a gerund, or 'He/She/It was'.

When Ursula is happy, I'm happy. Maybe she'll be less hard on my manuscript when she's in a good mood, so I'd better get writing.


Jen said...

Glad Ursula is happy!

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Whew, me too. She's so difficult when she's cranky.

Annalee Blysse said...

What's an adverb again? (Been so long since I wrote anything of consequence.)

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Adverbs are those nasty 'ly' words everyone complains 'bitterly' about. ;)