Life In These United States

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Van at Slab City, California desert

Van at Slab City, California desert

If you live in the United States, you are familiar with those horrid drug commercials on TV.  Yesterday, there were three in a row for three different drugs. It’s not bad enough the pharmaceutical companies screw us financially, now they make us listen to them yant while waiting for our programs.  I record most of my programs these days, so I can skip through the commercials, but my husband still has to watch his football games live.

I did get a laugh out of it all though, when we received a “thermarest-type” pad in the mail from Overstock.com.  You know how the drug companies are required to chant (as fast as possible) their warnings at the end of the commercial?  This came with the pad.  You have to get through to the end:

WARNING!

“This product is or contains urethane foam.  Urethane foam is flammable!  Urethane foam will burn if exposed to open flame or other sufficient heat source.  Do not expose urethane foam to open flame or other sufficient heat source.  Do not expose urethane foam to open flames or any other direct or indirect high temperature ignition sources, such as smoldering cigarettes, space heaters, naked lights, burning operations, welding or other heat sources.  These can cause urethane foam to ignite.
Once ignited, urethane foam will burn rapidly, release great heat and consume oxygen at a high rate.  The lack of oxygen may cause death or serious personal injury by suffocation.
Burning urethane foam will also emit hazardous gases.  These hazardous gases can cause death or serious personal injury.
Once ignited, urethane foam is difficult to extinguish.  Foam fires that appear to be extinguished may smolder and reignite.  Always have fire officials determine whether a fire has been extinguished.
We wish you many comfortable nights sleep.

Whoever wrote that one, could never write decent fiction.  Or could he?
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The Second Draft

You are ready to edit into your second draft.  First, do the mundane stuff:

  • Run spellcheck, only do not depend on spellcheck to catch everything.
  • Check grammar and punctuation
  • Look for those extraneous adverbs, particularly those pesky ones ending in “ly.”  She does not speak softly, she murmurs.
  • Delete cliches with something original.  This includes overused words.
  • Turn passive to active.  The book was not dropped by him.  He dropped the book. This also includes words like was, is and have – be more descriptive.
  • Have you varied sentence length?
  • Check for words such as like or as.  A metaphor would be better.
  • Many editors do not like the word, There, to begin a sentence.
  • Points of view should be clear.
  • Fix pronouns without clear antecedents.

The not so mundane:

  • Does your beginning have a “hook?”  Are the first paragraphs interesting enough to make the reader want to keep reading?
  • Does the ending satisfy?  You have given your readers expectations.  Have you satisfied them?  Recall the books you have read where the ending either disappointed or was “just right.”  Why?
  • Does the end of each chapter make the reader want to continue to the next?
  • Be sure you are showing, not telling.
  • Timing/pace.  Do not include information all at once.  Build intensity, then give the reader a break.
  • Are your characters’ motivations clear?
  • Use figurative language and simile whenever possible.  (Again, be careful of cliches.)
  • Stephen King came up with an idea.  If you have not beforehand, when reading through your manuscript, look for symbolism and theme.  He cites the recurrence of blood at three crucial times in his novel Carrie.  He realized how its meaning for sacrifice, virgin blood and its emotional connotations would add to the meaning of the book.  Symbol “can serve as a focusing device for both you and your reader, helping to create a more unified and pleasing work.”  He also says beware of forcing it; it should come naturally.  If it does not, do not force it.
  • Theme relates to why you bothered writing the story.  What is it about?  In your second draft, you want to make this clearer.  Focus.  If there are paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters of your manuscript that do not relate to this theme, delete them, or save them somewhere for another story.

I will have the detail about all this in future posts.  Stay tune.