The Post-CampNano Word Diet

June 8, 2012

CampNaNo 2012 Badge

Every NaNoWriMo participant knows that word count is King during the months of April June, August and November. And the higher  those per day’s stats are, the better chance you have for winning at month’s end.

But once the 30th rolls around, if you’re a dead serious writer, you’ll want to take a breather, and then take a new look at your work and trim it down into publishable shape.

And a Post-event word diet is what will be called for.

Here’s an excerpt from my in-progress How-to book for novices on How to Write Fiction:

The Better Verb Choice Editing Tool

Where are you using your verbs– in Narration, Setting, & Dialogue?  How are they used– alone or often coupled with adverbs? What type of verbs are you using– ones found by searching a thesaurus or synonym list?

How much of your page is covered with yellow after you run a Find word & Replace w/ the word highlighted step, looking for state of being verbs: am, are, became, been, being, is, could, did, do, does, had, has, should, was, were, would be?

Here are three samples of the editing process using a single 113-word paragraph. First Draft:

Christina had stepped on her bathroom scale. She was in her towel, just out of her morning shower. She weighed 185 pounds. But instead of seeing her weight she just saw two of the numbers that would be good for her next lotto ticket. She would be rich with those numbers. She could choose 18 and 5, she decided as she dried off after showering. That meant she had three other numbers to find. She uses Avon lotion to moisturize with. And her towel had dropped as she did her leg. As she does the other leg she thinks maybe she’ll use the number 19 too. Like she had done the last time.

It’s almost like this example could fit into a written book report, by a student stating what had happened in the chapter they had just read.

That was draft one – now look at Draft Two.

There were many action-less verbs to consider changing. Some were left alone, some removed, and some were switched for slightly better verbs. The writer didn’t even have to go to a thesaurus for the newer verbs to get her paragraph to work better.

Christina stepped on her bathroom scale, in her towel, just out of her morning shower. She weighed 185 pounds. But instead of seeing her weight she thought two of the numbers that seemed good for her next lotto ticket. She could be rich with those numbers. She chooses 18 and 5, deciding as she dried off after showering. That meant she needed to find three other numbers.  She uses Avon lotion to moisturize with, her towel dropped as she rubbed her leg. As she lotions the other leg she thinks maybe she’ll use the number 19 too. Like she did the last time.

Results: 103 words, and a bit more visual showing of the girl’s morning, still not a total revision.

And now to a final draft.

The word count is not changed at all, (it remained at 103 words). But what a change to the writing. This is no book report now.

The scale reads 185.

“Cool.” Christina nods, her damp hand against the wall to steady herself and her bath towel pressed tight against her middle so she can see the jiggling numbers. “There’s two, 18, and 5. Cool, just three more to find, and I’m rich.” She steps off the scale, sets her leg up on the rim of the tub, squirting pale yellow Avon lotion along the length of her shin. Her towel drops away and the remaining patches of dampness tingle on the back of her thighs and neck, making her skin prick up. “Maybe 19 again?” she asks her cat.

The How

This is what a search for better verbs can lead you toward:

Verbs used in first draft (19 verb forms– more than half are state-of-being):

had stepped, was, weighed, seeing, saw, would be, would be, could choose, decided, dried, had, uses, moisturize, had dropped, did, does, thinks, use, had done.

Verbs used in 2nd draft (17 verb forms – more verbs aren’t always the goal):

stepped, weighed, seeing, thought, seemed, could be, chooses, deciding, dried, needed, uses, moisturize, dropped, rubbed, lotions, thinks, use, did.

Verbs used in final draft (16 verb forms):

reads, nods, steady herself, pressed, can see , jiggling, steps, sets, squirting, drops away, remaining, tingle, making, prick, asks.

Your paragraph on a word-diet lost 10 words. (Yea!) Now consider the type of edits that happened between Draft Two and the Final.

It’s all about verb choices and moving from reporting in your writing into showing the scene on the page.

Because the novice’s biggest problem isn’t that these state of being verbs are being used; it’s that they are often used instead of a better verb.

And without the better verb choices, writing slips out of scene and into a distance-tinged narration.  There is a space between the reader and the narration (telling the reader about things). All we get is a report of what is happening.

Let’s hear from you in the comments section- are you planing a word-diet once NaNo is done?

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