Thinking and Wondering No More

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I recently had the privilege of a librarian friend agreeing to critique my writing. Tilly the Hun, as I affectionately call her, works in low socioeconomic school, doesn’t do any kind of social media, has never written a book, but boy can she pinpoint areas that need strengthening. She is a true ruler of the written word. She’d make a great editor, but will never give up her first love – reading and teaching.

I convinced Tilly for only the second time to read one of my manuscripts. She rarely has the time so it took some convincing. Note: Chocolate covered strawberries do wonders for getting your way.

I had her critique one of my stories that’s getting close to sending out. Actually, she completed her scathing critique before Halloween, but I just got to it this month. Okay, it wasn’t that bad. She loved the story, felt the characters were perfect, and thought the themes fit well with an MG audience. Her concern was with the first third of the manuscript.

“VOICE. It’s missing from those first 40 pages. Your character comes alive after that and I loved him dearly. Recapture in those first pages what you have in the final two-thirds and you have a winning story.”

I reread the story and of course she was right. But what made that first third different? It took me days to figure out what was going on here. Part of it was the familiarity of the character growing the more I wrote the story. By page 40 I was in the characters head. The other part turned out to be word choice.

The story was written in first person and two words evident early on disappeared once the MC found his voice. So here they are…

  1. THINKING
  2. WONDERING

That internal voice in any character does not think or wonder, they just do.

WEAK: I’m thinking of going swimming.

BETTER: I take a quick peek at Mom. She turns the page of her book. How can she read when it’s 90 degrees out here? If she’s not going to let me go swimming then my summer is pretty much over. I slide two fingers inside my purple cast but can’t reach the itch. Mom gets up, smiles, and heads to the snack bar or changing room. It doesn’t matter which. I raise my arm as high as it will go and walk to the pool’s edge. This may be a mistake.

The voice and personality are coming out in the second version. Wondering can receive similar treatment. Yes, the word count increases with the extra words, but by eliminating a fraction of unneeded propositions it brought the word count back down. The culprits: SINCE, THROUGH, ABOUT, ACROSS, AFTER, AROUND.

Do a search for any of the above words and watch your story become more interesting, tighter, and have a better flow.

Thank you, Tilly!

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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6 Responses to Thinking and Wondering No More

  1. Wow, that was a very thoughtful review by your friend. Sounds like she nailed the problem — and so do you. I know we get into telling rather than showing. What a difference in the changes we made. I write PB. Can’t imagine writing MG.

  2. Wonderful. I have had some beta readers comment they don’t relate until around page fifty. I think I’ll take a look at the idea of not being familiar enough with my characters at the beginning. That’s a real gift Tilly gave you!

  3. Such a great post, Greg. It gets one thinking.

  4. so nice of her, and this was a great example. It’s amazing how certain words take us right into “telling” land and we have to fight to “show” more.

  5. Yes, it can be difficult to take what is in our own head and get it to appear the same way on paper.

  6. cleemckenzie says:

    I love Tilly the Hun. We need more of her around the publishing business. Great advice.

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