Monday, July 18, 2011

Lessons from Dead Matter

My editor always asks if I want the "dead matter" for my books or should they just toss it.

"Dead matter" is a great term for that mile-high stack of manuscripts, revisions, galleys.

I have a closet full of "dead matter."

But I always say, yes, I would like to have it.

It's fun to go back to some of the earlier versions of my work and see the revisions. I especially like to note how even the smallest revision sometimes makes a big difference. Writers are perfectionists and need the perfect word, phrase, rhythm.

I've shared Lessons from Dead Matter in the past.

Here are some of the revisions from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

1. I'm particular about phrasing and the way words sound. I had written:

As soon as the words left his mouth, Owen's stomach clenched up into a ball of angry.

The copy editor suggested "a ball of anger."


2. I read this manuscript 5,438 times. Every time, I couldn't decide if it should be "train tracks" or "railroad tracks." I know, I know..... I opted for "train tracks." Sheesh.

3. Repetitious words are easy to miss. Also, "echoes" - the same words repeated or words that sound the same (like "side", "inside" and "outside").

I had written:

Then he scrambled up the side of the slope to the edge of the tracks. Viola was way off in the distance, running along the tracks toward home.

Changed to "running toward home."

4. Naturally, the copy editor questioned:

"I thought you said she wouldn't never go down to the pond."

But, then, that's how Travis would talk, right?

5. "high five" is two words

"lawn mower" is two words

"Weedwhacker" is one word

6. I originally had: "I'm allergic to pine," she said. "And ragweed and goldenrod, and . . . "

Copy editor notes: "I thought goldenrod itself was innocent; ragweed and others were the culprits."

I changed to "pigweed."

(Copy editors are such know-it-alls.)

7. I remember going round and round about:

He reached in and scooped up Tooley.


He reached in and scooped Tooley up.

(last one, of course)

8. Another repetition:

Owen picked up the biggest rock he could find and hurled it with all his might into the pond. It hit the water with a loud ploink, sending a spray of water into the air.

Changed to:

It hit with a loud ploink, sending a spray of water into the air.

9. On page 70, I wrote:

"You in or you out?"

On page 114, I wrote:

"Are you in or you out?"

Took out "are" in the second one.

10. Original version:
They were going to tell the reporter how Owen had found the submarine and how they had cleared the way to the pond and used the water pipes like the Egyptians had built the pyramids.

Revised to:

They were going to tell the reporter how Owen had found the submarine and how they had cleared the way to the pond. They were going to explain how they had used water pipes the way the Egyptians had used logs to move the stones when they built the pyramids.

So there you have it. Mostly little things. But to writers, they can be big things.


Denise Johnson said...

I LOVE the dead matter posts!

Karen said...

This is one of my favorite things you post! Great lessons for me; great lessons for students, thanks for beingvso candid as a writer!

Kristin said...

Thanks so much for sharing! I loved the book so seeing these gems makes my day.

P.S. I agree. It's better as ball of angry. :)

devin said...

you are always so up-front with your writing process. i really love it, barbara. thank you!

Stephanie Blake said...

I love these posts. I'm line editing now, and it is so weird how I keep flip flopping with words and sentences until it sounds "just right."