Category Archives: Editing

A Writing Style Comparison: Tobias Wolff and Dean Koontz

After reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I wanted my next read to be lighthearted and plot based. So, I picked up an old Dean Koontz novel, By the Light of the Moon. The two books could not be more different. Of course genre plays a big part, but the difference in writing styles is striking.

Koontz’s writing style is heavy in description and his plot moves forward minute by minute. Wolff puts the bare bones on paper, jumping right to the action and cutting all unnecessary description, plot, characterization, ect. I don’t think This Boy’s Life contains a single wordy sentence. Koontz, on the other hand, loves lengthy metaphors and diving deep into characters’ thoughts, even during heated action scenes.

Koontz and Wolff are two of my favorite writers but their styles could not be more different. Reading their books back-to-back really opened my eyes to those differences. Let me show you some specific examples.

Opening Lines

Here are a few sentences that begin chapters in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.

Wolff

  • The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
  • My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
  • When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.

Koontz

  • Shortly before being knocked unconscious and bound to a chair, before being injected with an unknown substance against his will, and before discovering that the world was deeply mysterious in ways he’d never before imagined, Dylan O’Conner left his motel room and walked across the highway to a brightly lighted fast-food franchise to buy cheeseburgers, French fries, pocket pies with apple filling, and a vanilla milkshake.
  • These were extraordinary times, peopled by ranting maniacs in love with violence and with a violent god, infested with apologists for wickedness, who blamed victims for their suffering and excused murderers in the name of justice.

What difference do you notice? Length? Who is more action-oriented? Who is more introspective?

 time-pass-by

Time

By the Light of the Moon: 140 pages into the novel less than three hours have passed in the plot with very little background/flashbacks. A high-speed car chase (not really a chase but a mission) that lasts approximately 10 minutes in real time, stretches 15 pages in the book. At times, I forget the chase was even happening because the side tangents and in-depth character thoughts were so dense.

This Boy’s Life: the plot skips large chunks of time, covering approximately eight years in total. In the following sentence Wolff captures the entire time frame of 7th grade (aka puberty): “I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.” Of course Wolff does go into normal-speed scenes in his memoir, but they are strongly action-based with little filler.

Which writing style do you enjoy more?

Does one style draw you in more than the other? Why do you think that is? I personally enjoy both. Certain months I relish the bare bones of Wolff, Carver, and the like. Other months I crave the second-by-second, in-the-mind-of-the-character stories of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and others.

Comment with two writers who are very different, yet you love them both. 

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What Makes a Great Opening Line?

There are many opinions and ideas of what an opening line should include/accomplish but there is one thing everyone can agree on; an opening line should intrigue the reader enough that they want to continue reading. Trying to figure out how to do that is where the opinions come in.

Here are a few things to consider when drafting that first line of your story.

7462160886_5fe0633a2b_bIntrigue reader to go on

The opening line should leave the reader with questions and those questions. Who is this character? Why are they in this predicament? Where are they going? What just happened? Of course an outstanding story can follow a poor opening line (or a poor story follow an outstanding first line) but as a writer, you want to hook your reader as soon as possible.

Example: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Set up voice

Have you ever absolutely loved a book but can’t exactly explain why? The plot was mediocre, the characters were relatable but there was just something extra special about the book you can’t pin down. It was probably the voice, the personality of the writing. Without exception, that personality should begin in the very first sentence and carry a similar feel throughout the entire piece.

Example: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Set up (writing) style

If a novel is a facts-based story with minimal details, the first line should reflect that. If a novel has a lot of description and wandering narration, then a long-winded description of a farm landscape and the sound of the character’s boots crunching gravel. The length of the sentence can have a big effect on this. Also, the POV should become clear in the first sentence.

Example of straight forward writing style: “Mother died today.” —Albert Camus, The Stranger

Example of stylistic writing style: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

115564627_06f61afdb6_bReflect the novel as a whole

This encompasses the two previous suggestions but also every other aspect of the writing and story itself. If the story is set in the 1800’s you don’t want to use 21st century slang. If its realistic fiction, don’t begin with a science-fiction metaphor. If you want to create a reliable narrator, avoid an opening sentence like Slaughterhouse Five‘s, “All this happened, more or less.” Whatever a piece of writing is about should be reflected in the opening line.

Example: “It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Make a bold statement

An option but not a requirement.

Example: “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.

Set the (action) scene

Some common advice you might have heard is to begin writing a story in the middle of a compelling scene. This can be an attention-grabbing option but (considering the above) if the story is not based around tons of action, this might not be the best option.

Example: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Introduce a character/setting

This is present in most first sentences but is rarely the main point of interest or focus.

Example: “My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.” —Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

What great advice have you heard about writing an opening line?

What is one of your own favorite opening lines?

60 Ways to Replace the Word “Went”

This article by A. Piper Burgi is a great example of what all writers should try to do. Explore the boring parts of writing (others as well as our own) and find a simple way to make it more engaging. Scratch out the unnecessary and enhance what remains.

Here is Burgi’s list of 60 words to replace “went”:

– ambledwent1 went2went5 went3 went4
– approached
– ascended
– barreled
– bolted
– burst
– climbed
– crawled
– crept
– darted
– dashed
– dove
– escaped
– exited
– faded
– fell
– fled
– flew
– galloped
– glided
– hiked
– hurried
– hustled
– hurtled
– jogged
– jumped
– left
– marched
– meandered
– neared
– paraded
– pounced
– pushed on
– raced
– ran
– retreated
– roamed
– rolled
– rushed
– sauntered
– skated
– slid
– slithered
– soared
– sped
– sprinted
– stomped
– stormed out
– strode
– strutted
– traipsed
– traveled
– trekked
– tripped
– tumbled
– vanished
– veered
– waddled
– walked
– zoomed

10 Things I Learned During NaNoWriMo

  1. characterization1. Our characters are not inherently interesting.

    Just because I give my character a name and a hair color and let them loose in my novel does not mean readers are going to connect to them. It takes hard work and careful consideration to make a character unique and memorable.

    2. I love writing dialogue.

    Maybe too much…

    3. My plot has a secret plan of its own.

    Some days I really struggled with my plot. I have never been able to plan more than a chapter ahead of time and it became very frustrating on days when I didn’t know what was going to happen in the next sentence. I would stare at the blinking cursor, trying to think of a creative yet realistic turn for my plot to take. When I would be on the verge of giving up, inspiration would strike and my story would take off with my fingers flying faster than ever before. Even as I make these plot twists up by the seat of my pants, they all tied into the story and led to an ending I never could have planned from the beginning. Sometimes I think my novel is someone else’s story that has already played out and I’m just trying to get in on paper for them. 

    main thing4. If you make it a priority, you can set aside the time to do anything.

    I always hear people saying things like “I don’t have time to work out” or “I don’t have time to read books” but over the past few years, its become clear to me that the ONLY things we have time for are the things we MAKE time for. Even at the start of November I didn’t think I had time to write 50,000 words in one month but once I set aside a regular time for it, writing became my #1 priority during those few hours.

    5. I use reading as a lazy excuse to avoid writing.

    I love reading and I approach books knowing they are filled with lessons I can learn about writing. I view reading as a way to improve my writing but during NaNo (when I didn’t read a single book) I realized there really is no replacement for writing. No matter how I approach reading, it will never teach me the same things that my writing can. I still find it very valuable and necessary but I need to avoid sitting in my oversized leather reading chair just because it’s easier than pumping out words of my own. 

    6. Turning off my car radio is a good time to think about my writing. 

    writer window7. “A writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”

    I found this quote by Burton Rascoe to be very true throughout November. Pondering my story, my plot, and my characters was just as important to my process as actually writing. Not only did I find myself thinking about my plot and my characters as I studied the scene out my office window, but also when I stared at the computer at work, when I went for a walk, when I was driving, when I read the news, and when I saw a stranger make an interesting gesture.

    8. I use writing to approach my soul’s nagging questions.

    The questions I’m afraid to ask. The questions that have no clear answers. The questions that are not questions at all, but desires waiting to be unleashed. Writing fiction is my way of fleshing out my thoughts without having to claim them as my own.

    9. My dog will refuse to settle on the cold hardwood floor of my office unless I lay down blankets for her. 

    Even this is too simplified...10. Getting the story down is only the first, small step. 

    Especially since I don’t plan out my novel before I begin, a lot of changes occur that will change previous scenes drastically. Halfway through my novel, I changed one character from male to female which changed her entire personality. Not only do the obvious things need to be changed but, one of my main editing priorities is making sure the characters personality are consistent with their actions throughout the entire novel. My plans for this novel are much bigger than they were a month ago. Editing, here we come!

“It’s a true fact!!! People who edit things no longer neeeded”

This article was passed around my Editing Team at work and we got two things out of it:

1) echoing laughter

2) a stronger sense of job security

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Here is the link! 

Graham Greene’s Edits of The Power and The Glory *Spoilers*

power-and-glory-greeneShitty first drafts; its a common phrase in the writing world and one that I personally cling on to as one of the main reasons I keep plugging away on my first novel. Editing is where the story really ties itself together. Therefore, the edits an author makes from the first draft of their novel until publication fascinates me!

Unfortunately, with the use of computers and word documents, these changes often disappear into cyber space, never to be seen or studied by anyone. BUT in 1939 when Graham Green wrote the first version of The Power and the Glory, he used good ‘ol pen and paper. That original, hand-written copy of the novel is still in tack (see pictures below!), allowing individuals to compare the original copy with the published manuscript.

See my book review of The Power and the Glory here. It may surprise you!! 

While doing a bit of snooping on the Internet, I came across this intriguing article by François Gallix, a professor of contemporary literature in English at the Sorbonne in Paris. Gallix had the privilege of looking at the original version of The Power and the Glory and in doing so, he found some meaningful cuts made to the text which he describes in his article. Click here for full article.

**Spoilers ahead** The most interesting cut Gallix pointed out is near the end of the novel when the main character, a priest in Mexico during a time when all religion is outlawed, was executed in the center of town. Gallix explains the passage as follows:

The published text runs as follows:

“Then there was a single shot, and opening [his eyes] again he [Mr. Tench] saw the officer stuffing his gun back into his holster and the little man was a routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant that had to be cleared away. [added on the manuscript and published: Two knock-kneed men approached quickly].”

After “cleared away,” Greene crossed out the following lines that were not included in the published version:

“But looking down Mr. Tench caught a look on the officer’s face—an uneasy look, the look of a disappointed man and it suddenly sunk to him, as the buzzards flipped down again after the explosion’s shot, as though the blood had been cleared away from a whole region of the world.”

Gallix explains this cut as part of Greene’s “purified minimalist style,” purposely leaving things open ended so the reader can interpret the work anyway he/she sees fit. Many authors incorporate this minimalist style into their writing, Raymond Carver as one of my favorites, but seeing the actual edits first hand is a unique experience. I’m very glad that I came across this article and have the opportunity to share it with you all! Please check out the entire article here. It’s not long and well worth the time!

greene1_large

Title Page from Graham Greene’s manuscript of The Power and the Glory. © Copyright Verdant SA.

greene3_large

Page from Graham Greene’s manuscript of The Power and the Glory. © Copyright Verdant SA.

Editing The Maze Runner

MazeRunner_cover

Photo taken from jamesdashner.com

While reading James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, I had a strong, sometimes overwhelming urge to grab a permanent marker and start striking through lines. He adds a lot of unneeded dialogue tags and details that can be inferred by the reader. I understand that because this is a Young Adult novel, extra details are sometimes needed but at the same time I believe that you should never write down to your readers. A successful writer once told me to always assume your reader is much smarter than you. Assume they can connect all the dots you lay out for them and that they are a human fact-checker, making sure you’re not making up all the facts of our world while making up your story within it.

Below is a small portion of The Maze Runner with my edits. The strikethroughs are things I would cut and the other words in red are my additions.

(This is an extension of the book review I posted yesterday, The Maze Runner: A Deep Look into the Weak First Person POV. Check it out!)

***SPOILER ALERT**** I picked an early chapter so as not to give too much away if you want to read the book, but still be aware, this is taken directly from the book.

Chapter 8

The alarm finally stopped after blaring for a full two minutes. A crowd was gathered in the middle of the courtyard around the steel doors through which Thomas was started to realized he’d arrived just yesterday. Yesterday? he thought. Was that really just yesterday? he thought.

Someone Chuck tapped him on the elbow; he looked over to see Chuck by his side again.

“How goes it, Greenbean?” Chuck asked.

“Fine,” he lied replied, even though nothing could’ve been cuther from the truth. He pointed toward the doors of the Box. “Why is everyone freaking out? Isn’t this how you all got here?”

Chuck shrugged. “I don’t know–guess it’s always been real regular-like. One a month, every month, same day. Maybe whoever’s in charge realized you were nothing but a big mistake, send someone to replace you.” He giggled as he elbowed Thomas in the ribs, a high-pitched snicker that inexplicably make Thomas like him more.

Thomas shot his new friend a fake glare. “You’re annoying. Seriously.”

“Yeah, but we’re buddies, now, right?” Chuck fully laughed this time, a squeaky sort of snort.

“Looks like you’re not giving me much choice on that one.” But truth was, he needed a friend, and Chuck would do just fine.

The kid folded his arms, looking very satisfied. “Glad that’s settled, Greenie. Everyone needs a buddy in this place.”

Thomas grabbed Chuck by the collar, joking around. “Okay, buddy, then call me by my name. Thomas. Or I’ll throw you down the hole after the Box leaves.” That triggered a thought in his head as he released Chuck. “Wait a minute, have you guys ever–”

“Tried it,” Chuck interrupted before Thomas could finish.

“Tried what?”

“Going down in the Box after it makes a delivery,” Chuck answered. “It won’t do it. Won’t go down until it’s completely empty.”

Thomas remembered Alby telling him that very thing. “I already knew that, but what about–”

“Tried it.”

Thomas had to suppress a groan–this was getting irritating. “Man you’re hard to talk to.  Tried what?”

“Going through the hole after the Box goes down. Can’t. Doors will open, but there’s just emptiness, blackness, nothing. No ropes, nada. Can’t do it.”

How could that be possible? “Did you–”

“Tried it.”

Thomas did groan this time. “Okay, what?”

“We threw some things into the hole. Never heard them land. It goes on for a long time.

Thomas paused before he replied, not wanting to be cut off again. With as much sarcasm as he could muster, he said, “What are you, a mind reader or something?” He threw as much sarcasm as he could into the comment.

“Just brilliant, that’s all.” Chuck winked.

“Chuck, never wink at me again.” Thomas said it with a smile. Chuck was a little annoying, but there was something about him that made things seem less terrible. Thomas took a deep breath and looked back toward the crowd around the hole. “So, how long until the delivery gets here?”

The chapter continues but I think you get the picture. Its important to understand that some of these edits are stylistic. Perhaps Dashner wants Chuck to be a man of many words and that is why he has him repeat himself. But in other cases, I think a lot of writers (and readers) would agree that Dashner has unneeded explanations.

Example:  “Chuck interrupted before Thomas could finish.” Cutting someone off before they could finish is the exact definition of interrupting someone, so if you cut this dialogue tag  to say “Chuck interrupted” it doesn’t lose any meaning. Its the same idea as “he whispered quietly” or “he pointed with his index finger.” Readers know that whispers are quiet and they will assume pointing is done with the index finger. Assume your readers are smart and treat them that way. No one wants to be talked to like a child, especially not teenagers (YA readers).

Please comment! I would love to know what others think about my edits!  🙂 
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