Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Dumb it Down..."


...received some interesting advice from my "reader" who's involvement has sparked a fourth...kind of mini-edit on "South of Charm."

A former editor, now more or less a hired hit-man for those of us clawing our way toward some shelf space at Barnes & Noble, she finished up my novel a week ago, assembled her thoughts, and suggested to David that I should perhaps, "Dumb it down" a bit.

My response was, "Huh?"

David managed to clarify. "In a nutshell, she thinks maybe you're writing gets too cute in a few scenes. Don't huff. Overall she enjoyed it, but you know how it is...every critique has to come back with something, thus earning them their blue chip."

"So...she's wanting me to cut out some of the more colorful phrases, and replace them with, what...newspaper print?" I asked.

This sparked a grin. "Not quite that extreme, El. Her take was, during a few of the more intense moments of the story, your prose blossomed a bit too much, causing her to go back and re-read the scene, making sure she fully understood what was going on. She fears some readers may put the book down if they find themselves in the same position."

"I'm assuming you've read Wroblewski's "Sawtelle," or Susanna Clark's "Norrell," right?" I asked.

David nodded.

"Okay then, how many times did you have to go back and re-read that craziness?"

"More than I'm willing to admit."

"How about 'Tinkers?' That one won the Pulitzer, you know."

"Don't remind me."

"And those books are considered some of the best work over the past decade. So what gives?"

David expelled a breath, his patience creating the type of silence only a newborn would feel comfortable in. Then, "Who's your main character in 'Charm?'

"The Kaufman kid."

"And how old is he?"

"Ten."

Then I got it. "Wait. Okay. I see what you're getting at."

David's smile returned. "Sometimes you writers like to show off, wanting us readers to shake our heads in awe...which is fun. But sometimes, depending on the scene, and the character in question, thinning out some spice can make all the difference."

"Okay. I'm not on my deathbed," I said. "There's time. Send me another copy and your ideas, and I'll see what I can do."

Revision number 4. "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" went through 15 rounds of revisions before getting shoved into the press. "South of Charm" is based on the troubled life of a ten year old boy with a special gift, but a family secret...more or less a curse as he sees it. And that's the key. As he sees it. Through his eyes, not mine. A ten year old boy...

"Dumb it Down." I've got two weeks and she wants to read it again.

Okay Kaufman, tell me what you see...

11 comments:

Misha said...

Great post!

Sometimes, we writers get so carried away by writing that we forget to look at how the character will realistically react in certain situations...

Aubrie said...

Oh yes, sometimes I start to write in purple prose, as it's called (more like poetry) and I bet I loose a few readers myself.

KarenG said...

I never think of it as "dumbing it down" I think of it as making it easier on the reader, not having to force the reader to work too hard for comprehension. but every now and then throwing in a 75 word sentence just for ME.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I think of it as speaking French to the French. No matter how eloquently you speak of love in Spanish to a French woman, she will not understand you.

It's good to keep it in the framework of your main character -- which is why Sam McCord is a poet/philosopher forced into a life of violence. He regards the world as a poet/philosopher/reluctant soldier would view it.

I face your problem with Victor Standish, my 13 year old hero of my current WIP. But I made him a wily teenage Ulysses of sorts. I made his intelligence and cunning as much a burden to him as a help.

I wish you luck, Elliot. Roland

B.E.T. said...

Oh fun. Yeah, being flowery is all well and good, but there is always the point where I have to read over my own stuff a few times and then I realize that people will be reading this for fun...and I want them to understand me as well as I understand me. So then revision happens. Good luck with rewriting and simplifying. As always, it is a bitch.

Donna Hole said...

"Cut those darlings"; but feel the pain too. Yeah, its tough to realize some of our best writing is out of character.

But Elliot, you appear to be easy to work with, and flexible. You listen to reasoning, and are willing to re-orient.

To me, that is as much of good writing as actually completing the novel. A writer can recognize problems when properly brought to their attention, but mostly, we see what it was intended to say.

Sounds like your moving right along towards publication. Good luck. I hope you make your deadline :)

.......dhole

Christine Danek said...

Great post, Elliot. I like your term "dumb it down." I get so carried away with certain scenes and I'm worried about it. I did cut out a lot of overwriting in my first chapter and got good feedback on it (meaning I got rid of most of it.) I'm learning how to notice this. IT takes practice, right?
Good luck, I know you will get it done.

The Words Crafter said...

Great advice for us newbies, thanks for sharing it. I agree with Donna, you seem to be easy to work with and the people around you seem to respect you and are also pretty good at making their points without being nasty about it.

I hope one day to have such a good experience....I'm inspired! And good luck!

Elliot Grace said...

...thanks for everyone's support:)
I won't tell a fib...there was a moment where I was taken aback. But in the presence of those "in the know," one must cooperate in order to prolong the journey.

...hard at it once again. Off we go.

RaShelle said...

Hey Elliot - I have to agree. The part where he said "More than I'm willing to admit." Ha ha ha ha. That would be me too, except if I liked the book, I'd just skip over it, or if it wasn't that exciting I'd put it down. It's true, We writers do like to show off sometimes. LOL But, then I'm one of those who reads to be entertained, not to be amazed by literary talent. A GREAT STORY. Great writing. I've read your stuff before - you've got both. =D

Adeeva Afsheen said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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