Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Shoe Test

I've been reading manuscripts for the last few days and a recurring foible is what  I now call "the shoe test."

Example: "She wore six-inch slingbacks on her feet."

Where else is she going to wear them? Her head?

Go through your manuscript sentence by sentence to make sure you're not "wearing shoes on your feet." You might be delightfully surprised by how much more lean and elegant your prose is.

Other examples:

Adrenaline coursed through her veins (I'm glad it wasn't coursing out her ears)
Adrenaline coursed through her veins

She drove her car to the office (probably because her broom was in the shop)
She drove her car to the office


Take out every word you don't need.

Sometimes you may need to say she drove her car, or adrenaline coursed through her veins, but that should be something you choose to put in, not the default way you write.

[One of the best places to practice this kind of spare writing is twitter. With only 140 characters, you have to be lean. Don't "cheat" with abbreviations--pare down!]

And give yourself a break on this:  everyone everyone everyone over-writes on the initial draft. That's why God invented revisions.  Don't kick yourself for writing like this; save the kicking for not finding it on the second pass.

Need help with kicking? Here ya go:

Rockettes in 1925!




21 comments:

Michael Seese said...

My personal favorite (written or spoken) is:

"I thought to myself."

When I hear that, I wonder, OK...exactly whom else are you capable of thinking to?

The Girl With Words said...

Slightly off topic, but it reminds me of this...

'He ran a hand through his hair.'

Whose hand??

Maybe I'm just picky, but that drives me nuts.

V Brown said...

"Well put, Madam Shark." Vbrown typed on her keyboard.

Terrance Austin said...

Thanks Janet. After reading your post, I went back to check on my 1st draft. I was able to cut a entire paragraph in half because of words that I didn't need.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

When I used to give impromptu lessons on how to write flash fiction, this was my example:

Mary picked up a spoon and began to serve the potatoes.

becomes -

Mary served the potatoes.

Unless that spoon is destined to be a murder weapon in the scene, it can be inferred that Mary used a suitable utensil to dish out the taters.

One flash writer said, "All of my characters must be naked because I never ever mention clothing. I know my readers are smart enough that if I say church, they will infer the characters are appropriately clothed."

Terri

Sarah Ahiers said...

In first drafts I'm a big fan of "she nodded her head". In revisions, I'm a bigger fan of "She nodded"

Richard Gibson said...

Reminds me of the report on a sports injury: "He pulled a groin." His own?

Joel Freiburger said...

I couldn't agree more, he thought in agreement, using his brain.

Debra Lynn Lazar said...

Love your words of wisdom, Janet. Whenever I do "that-ectomies" on my writing I think of you. ;-)

Kitty said...

Learning how to omit unnecessary words/phrases is one of the benefits of your 100-word contests. (hint hint hint)

Janet Reid said...

Kitty, stay tuned: Friday!

Terri Lynn Coop said...

YES! My puppy dog eyes worked!

Colin Smith said...

And here I was, enjoying WriteOnCon, thinking life couldn't be any better... and there's going to be contest this weekend?! Yay!! :D

french sojourn said...

Can life get any better?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

To be fair, adrenaline could also be coursing through one's Soviet Lazarus machine (they didn't call them that, I don't think. But perhaps they should have.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Cliche alert, I'm a day late and a buck short but the first thing I thought when I saw all those beautiful young women...every one of them is dead.
Does that make me morbid or a realist who is getting old?

Gary Corby said...

I suppose you realize this means the next ms will include a character who's wearing shoes somewhere other than their feet?

Loretta Ross said...

I know a guy that I'm pretty sure regularly wears a sock on his. . . Nevermind. . .

Rebekkah Niles said...

"Well perhaps," she said from her ear, "they do things unusually elsewhere?" Typing on her panda, she nodded her elbow with satisfaction, and then drove her fish to the post office and stuck the letter in the toolbox while adrenaline was still coursing through her kitchenette.

Janet Reid said...

"Rebekkah, you crack me up completely," she replied from her ear.

JustSarah said...

I'm going to try this on my short fiction I just finished, so I can be within my word budget. I might try this on the 7th draft. Thanks a bunch.

I tend to budget my words.:/ No wonder I can't do novels.