Monday, 24 October 2011
Three Bad Habits
Stephen King, eh? Sometimes he’s dispensing words so heavy with wisdom and insight that he has you reappraising everything you’ve written – and other times he’s as useful as that bloke down the pub with his theory of everything.
Case in point:
Kingy tells me to put my draft in a draw and leave it for sixth months. Time, he says, gives perspective and clarity. Six months, I think. Jeez. That’s like – virtually a year, right? But dammit, he was bang on the money. I unwrap the draft. I crank up the laptop. I read. Perspective! Clarity!
Then I start my re-draft. Kingy’s steer on this is clear. “Second draft” he says – I’m paraphrasing, you understand; On Writing’s upstairs and I’m down here on the sofa with a premier cru cider – “equals first draft minus 10%.” Minus 10%, I think. So I’m aiming to lose 7k. I’m just chopping out words. Adverbs, mostly. So off I go, and what do I find?
The man’s advice is bobbins, people. Bobbins.
Re-drafting for King might be like pruning an already handsome-looking shrub, but for me it’s like arriving in the garden with a pair of secateurs, only to find you need a chainsaw, safety goggles and an extensive pergola just to keep the damn bush upright. My book looks like the bongleweed.
But I confess I’ve had a jolly time poking fun at my six-month-younger-self. Boy, there were some clangers in there. Here’s my top three bad writing habits. I’m hoping against hope here that a few of you guys might provide me with some comfort by confessing to similar failings.
1. Doubling-up verbs
It seems when I can’t choose between two verbs – to hell with it, I pick them both. This is particularly the case when they’re onomatopoeiac - so horses pulling carts “clatter and rattle” down the cobbled streets – but is also a fave of mine when someone’s in the grip of some strong emotion. Hearts “swell and bob” in anticipation. Stomachs “flip and shudder”. Deary, deary me.
2. The eyes have it
When I need a character to materialise quickly in the mind of the reader, I have an irritating tendency to fiddle with their eyes. Forget voices, quirks, personalities – just give ‘em some crowsfeet and be done, that’s me. The fortune teller? “her creased eyes painted...” The masseur at the steamhalls? “wide wet eyes” (wet?!) Fat Oscar? “eyes glassy like marbles” and “there’s something in his eyes as they flicker upwards”. Boredom at being so tediously described, I should imagine.
3. Me and my two adjectives
Madness when your two adjectives are zingy, vibrant and interesting words. Total bloody lunacy when the two in question are “thin” and “tight”. Every street, passageway, alley, corridor, walkway and tunnel are one or both of these things at some point. Such is my desperation to create a sense of claustrophobia, I’m slapping the reader in the face with it every other sentence.
And I’ve deliberately not mentioned the horrific continuity errors – there’s a whole post’s worth of fun in those. As for the kissing scene – Lord above, I write like I’m seventeen.
Faced with these problems, I reckon even Kingy would agree to adjust his simple re-drafting equation. “Second draft”, he’d be forced to concede, “equals first draft minus plot holes, purple prose, personality quirks, bad habits – and 10%”