Did you check your manuscript for…1 + 1 = 1/2?

currently playing on my iPod: Sprawl II by Arcade Fire

During this post and the following two, I’m going to chat about using some fantabulous books on craft to check your manuscript.

Today we shall dive into Renni Browne and Dave King’s SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. This book warns both beginner and experienced writers to watch for what they call the 1 + 1 = 1/2 phenomena.

It’s all about the R word. Repetition. *shudders* If you show your character doing a happy dance and then you mention how pleased he is, you undercut your action with telling. Not a good move. Also, if you have a snazzy, unique action or descriptive phrase alongside a lesser one, you weaken your writing. More simple problems to pick up are repeated dialogue tags, pronouns, and character names.

Example time!

Yucky Version (watch for how I tell the reader the same stuff over and over and over and over…you get it)

“I told you not to tell her!” Meg shouted, her anger rising as her hands became fists.

“Meg, she was crying, for God’s sake. Crying.” Nick shook his head and sat on the bed.

Meg’s temples throbbed. Furious, she pounded her fist on the table. “I can’t believe you! What am I supposed to do now?” 

Meg’s anger wouldn’t allow her to look in Nick’s face. She stared at the ceiling, fuming.

Better Version (Note how I removed some of the pointless repetition as well as unnecessary dialogue tags.)

“I told you not to tell her!” Meg’s hands became fists.

“She was crying, for God’s sake. Crying.” Nick shook his head and sat on the bed.

Meg pounded the table with her fist. “I can’t believe you! What am I supposed to do now?”

So this little snippet isn’t going to win me any Pulitzer prizes, but hopefully it demonstrates Browne and King’s point of 1 + 1 = 1/2.

In the Yucky Version, the writer smacks the reader with Meg’s anger repeatedly. The reader does not need such a smacking nor does said reader enjoy such behavior. Neither does the reader require the constant naming of the characters. They get it. They really do.

Do not underestimate your readers.

So…have you checked your manuscript for the R word? Read SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS and stop that nasty habit.

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5 Responses to Did you check your manuscript for…1 + 1 = 1/2?

  1. LOL…. I laugh because I am hiding behind the couch as I read this. Me? R word? Nooooo… *peeks to see if anyone is looking* Not ME!!!!!

  2. Loving your blog. 🙂

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