Sigh. Sigh. It's not that I don't think you can figure out on your own which words to emphasize while you're reading, it's just that I like italics. (Yes, Amber, just like Emily Byrd Starr!) I overuse them. I confess. I just like them. (Okay, that one was just to make a point.) So, in my latest Silksinger editorial letter, my editor points out that I have italicized over 400 word. 400 out of 95,000ish, that's like 1/237th of the book! (I like to picture him with a scotch on the rocks in one of those fat crystal glasses, going through my manuscript page by page, tallying italics. I hope it was some sneaky computer function that did it, and not him!) He recommended I de-italicize the entire (ha!) manuscript, then only put them in where I really need them. I didn't do that, because I am chicken, but I am (you see! It's a sickness!) de-italicizing like wildfire. Really I am. I am.
Okay, enough of that. It's nice to be at the stage of worrying about such menial things as italics, rather than, you know, considering cutting half the book and rewriting it. Not that I don't still have some big issues to tackle and some scenes to rewrite, but overall, third draft = less insane than 2nd draft, and much more pleasant. Yay!
It's at times like this that we discover our irritating habits as writers. I have gotten some great feedback from my first readers, and I have a few manuscripts piled beside me, all marked up with comments, words circled and underlined and slashed out. And it has become clear to me that the word "suddenly" needs to be stripped from my vocabulary. (Thanks, Steph, for being the "suddenly" police!) Also offenders: "extremely" and "immediately." There are very few times in good writing that modifiers like "extremely" are necessary. Also, I am finding in my manuscript that often times things "seem to be" when they should just "be." It is wishy-washy to seem. "Very" gets a little out of hand too, especially when used like this: "he could feel the very air peel aside at the touch of his blade."
And how about habitual characterizations? This is tricky. You know, writers, how we fall back on describing certain details about our characters, especially when they are reacting to something? If I had that nifty function on my computer, I would count how many times my characters' eyes narrow with suspicion or go wide with surprise. Eek! And the blushing. And the anxious chewing of the lip. You know of what I speak, writers?
Then there are the fall-back verbs, especially speech modifiers. My crows, they croak their lines, and they squawk. The Djinn have a tendency to hiss. Lots of things hiss, come to think of it, it's an awesome word, but I do overuse it. "Said," is a champion of a word, folks, it's an invisible word. Have you noticed this? You can use "said" 8,000 times in your book. It can be 1/11th of your book, and you'll scarcely notice (okay, so I exaggerate, but you know). In Silksinger I had a fun problem: my main character is named Whisper, because she, um, whispers. But how many times can I use the word "whisper"? And of course, never ever can I say "Whisper whispered." So I had to get creative, as her voice is a crucial plot element (you know, Silksinger).
Anyway, it's fun and eye-opening, getting this sort of feedback at this stage. Thank you to my editor, and huge, huge thanks to Steph for being not only the best-ever smiley-face and heart drawer, but for mercilessly slashing useless words.
I will never slash enough words to satisfy my editor. He has asked me to cut an additional 7000 words from this manuscript (while simultaneously adding many many things -- don't ask how I hope to accomplish this; I don't). My trusty calculator tells me that I only have to cut 28 words per page. That's all. No sweat! I think I'll just cut the first 28 words from each page. That'll be easiest. Haw haw! (Oh, and can you see how I am learning my lesson about italics? Ah, but this is an italics-friendly zone. I promise that by the time Silksinger reaches you, there will be nowhere near 400 words in italics!)
Any of you writers have any particular quirks you want to share? What are your word weaknesses?
Lastly, a few fun notes about having sent out Silksinger to "first readers." I have never done this before, by the way. I have never even been in a critique group -- only my husband, best friend, and family have read my early drafts. But I'm really, really glad I sent it out, because the responses a) cheered me up and inspired me, and b) pointed out some really important things! So, thank you to Jim, Alexandra, Steph, Amber, Lexi, Heather, Nerd Goddess, Frida, Daanon, Chary, and Owen. You are all made of awesomeness. May the universe reward you with cupcakes until the day comes that I can reward you myself with cupcakes (or, in Daanon's case, voodoo donuts!)
Yesterday I got a phone call from my favorite 10-year-old boy, Owen. He is the boy who swooned at my feet at Wordstock last year, which will be a high-point of my writing life for as long as I live. And he kind of looks like Talon, without the facial tattoos, by the way. And his father runs a literary festival, and his mother owns a chocolate shop. Ladies, if you were ten years old, who would be your boyfriend? Owen! So, he told me his current thoughts on the book, and about how his rock band just wrote a protest song about the environment. (love)
And I got a very endearing email today from Enna Isilee, who is friends with Nerd Goddess (they are in a critique group of two), asking very nicely (and persuasively) if she might read Nerd Goddess's copy of Silksinger draft 2. Nerd Goddess (how wonderful is that name?) is apparently taking to heart my note that readers can let their friends read the manuscript, but only if they then kill them. Nerd Goddess, it's okay. You don't have to kill Enna Isilee. I would feel really, really bad about that. (By the way, these two are Shannon Hale fans, so you know they're awesome. A writer can dream about having the devoted fan following of the lovely and so-talented Shannon Hale.)
So, thanks again to all reader! I go forth fortified to finish the third draft, with far fewer "suddenlys" and a fatwa against italics!