Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In Search of That One Perfect Word

by Mike Crawmer

Looking back on it now, writing the first draft of my mystery seems like purgatory, albeit a purgatory of my own making. It took me way too long to get to the point where I felt I had written all that needed to be written and I could type that last period on that last sentence in that last paragraph. Done, at last.

Now, for the rewrite, the next daunting step in the creative process, but one that I looked forward to--really. At the office I rework, rewrite and sometimes re-imagine others’ writing. How much more satisfying the editing experience will be when rewriting my own WIP. Now I can fix the contradictions, repair POV problems, and figure out what to do with that subplot that, so important in chapter four, peters out in chapter ten. Rewriting will be challenging and, yes, fun. But I’m still in chapter one when I hit a dead end. One sentence refuses to be fixed.

“Andre’s words echoed throughout the hall” seems, at first glance, to be just fine. There’s the requisite subject and verb, and a hint of the setting. But, on second look, “hall” won’t work. You see, Andre is speaking inside a vast, empty stable. For the average reader, “hall” conjures up an office building, a hospital, a school, maybe even a Southern plantation house. Not a stable.

Okay, let’s see how I can fix this. I write, “echoed through the stable,” but I’ve already established the setting. To write “stable” again would be repetitious and--horrors!--unimaginative. How about “room”? It is a room, but, oh, how bland! “Space” then? Nope. Sounds like something an interior decorator would say. Hey, what about “interior”? But “interior,” besides being about as unspecific as you can get, suffers the same affliction as “room”—it’s boring.

Figuratively tossing my hands up in the air, I look at the entire sentence rather than focusing on one frustratingly wrong word. “Andre’s words” has to stay, but what about replacing “echo”? Maybe Andre’s words could “bounce off the stable’s musty walls” or “fall with a thud amid the empty straw-filled stalls”?

I look at all the options. Hall. Walls. Stalls. Is there a pattern here? I’m really stuck, aren’t I? And now I’ve gone from echoing to bouncing to thudding, and I’m no happier than I was when I first realized “hall” wouldn’t work. Ten minutes wasted and I still have 68,346 words to go.

At this pace, “WIP” will go from shorthand when referring to the novel underway to the very title of the work itself. And I thought writing the first draft was a chore!


Joyce said...

Mike, you'd better not take as much time with this rewrite as you did with your first draft. :-) Yes, I am cracking that whip!

How about "Andre's words bounced from one empty stall to another." Or just plain old "Andre's voice echoed."

Nancy said...

Yeah, I'm always relieved to get the first draft done. Then the REAL work starts. It takes me at least 3 months to tinker with the story.

Thing is, Mike, you'll have 4 other chances to fix Andre's words: The agent's required revisions. The editor's revisions. The editor's revisions of the revisions. And the copy-edit phase. And if you're really picky, there's the galley stage and even the page proofs can be noodled.

So cut the sentence entirely and keep going. Tell the story. An inspiration to fix Andre's echo will occur to you at a time when you least expect it. Meanwhile, flag the page with a post-it, if you must, but lingering . . . well, that's clearly going to drive Joyce nuts!

mike said...

Joyce--Fret not! I am moving forward. And Nancy, thanks for giving me a new motto: "NO LINGERING." I'm going to post that above my computer. That sentence was an extreme example--I don't think I spent more than a minute fussing over it. I certainly have bigger issues to tackle than an errant word.

Annette said...

Mike, I agree with Nancy, but since I'm the resident farm girl, I have to throw some words at you. Depending on where Andre is in the stable, his words could echo down the length of the aisle OR into the hay mow or loft. They could bounce off stall partitions. Or be absorbed into the stacked hay bales. And of course, you can use BARN instead of STABLE.

I know, I know. I'm absolutely no help at all. Go with what Nancy said.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Mike, I think all of us can relate to what you are experiencing. For me, wordsmithing--as I like to call it--is the fun part.

Tory said...

I know the feeling, Mike! And the worst part is, when I get lost in the details I have a hard time figuring out if I'm making it better or worse.