Good morning! I want to thank everyone who dropped by last week and joined in the Editor’s Corner Q & A. A fun day for me, and, I hope, a helpful one for you. I will be pulling it all together and adding it to the EC archives sometime later this week.
Today I want to discuss trimming the fat we marble into our tales and presenting the cleanest, leanest work possible. (Vegetarians, my apologies for the metaphor. Think of shaping a bonsai, instead.) In my experience, most verbal excess comes from a simple bad habit: writing as we talk. Unnecessary conjunctions and prepositions, qualifiers and redundancies, litter spoken English – and, I imagine, most other languages – slipping in as casually as a hem or a haw or a thought-filled caesura. But put that into fiction or poetry and the flow sputters and…
When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down.
One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.”
Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!”
I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I?
I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.”
Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray.
With love from Dr. Niamh,
Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books. www.drniamh.co.uk