Revision, Editing and Mark Twain

Easter Sunday Morning, and it snowed again overnight. A skiff of snow, my mother called it.

I’ve been searching my saved websites, blogs and so on, for advice on editing that I meant to read, I truly did, before starting the revision process again.

Today, I found a blog that Margaret Atwood wrote in 2009, Ten Editing tips for your Fiction Mss. Coincidently, I’m reading her book about the writing life, titled Negotiating with the Dead. Her teaching is always interesting and often funny. https://marg09.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/ten-editing-tips-for-your-fiction-mss

I liked her advice on dialogue, especially the use of contractions and cutting “that” from speech. I’m guilty of not doing the first and including the second far too often, which makes for a tedious revision.

Another difficult writing chore is producing the synopsis. One of the sites that I found to help with that is http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/04/17/how-to-write-a-1-page-synopsis/

The author of this section, Sooz, presents us with a template and three rules-of-thumb. The rules seem simple: Name only three characters in a short synopsis, tell the ending and stick to the main plot, only including subplots if space allows. The template creates a synopsis of Star Wars as an example.

A return to Mark Twain’s rules for writers is always amusing.

 

Twain’s Rules of Writing (from Mark Twain’s scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)

 

  1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
  2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
  3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
  4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
  5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
  6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
  7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
  8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
  9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
  10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
  11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

The author should:

Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

Use the right word, not its second cousin.

Eschew surplusage.

Not omit necessary details.

Avoid slovenliness of form.

Use good grammar.

Employ a simple, straightforward style.

 

 

Today, I’m remembering my grandmother Jane Callahan and my friend Dan Wilmot, both of whom died on Easter Sunday.

 

Publishing and still waiting, cont.

The proof copy is in the mail! Now I’m waiting on Canada Post. In the meantime, I’m sending out a few queries to Canadian agents for another novel, HIDDEN. This one isn’t in the Dangerous Journeys series although the protagonist is well-travelled by book’s end. Below is a very short synopsis:

Bella, a young Toronto doctor, leaves her narrow life, bounded by her condo, her addiction meetings and her volunteer work at a refugee centre, to save her immigrant clients from a gang of imported thugs from Chechnya. The next three weeks take her from Toronto to Rome to Venice to Dubrovnik, finally bringing her face to face with a killer in a toolshed in Toronto.

Writing synopses is one of the more difficult tasks for a novelist. One needs to write more than one: one for the jacket and then a series for different agents and different publishers. There isn’t uniformity in the publishing world.

And then there is something else called the “pitch”. This is a very short, 20 second sentence that can be blurted out to agents or publishers at conferences, at lunch or in the elevator. It seems strange to me that a decision on whose work to read can depend on a practiced sentence, possibly not even written by the speaker.

Another item is “the hook”, a brief description of some aspect of the work that sets it aside from others and can capture the reader.

All this for the business of writing.