Friday, June 12, 2009

The Azure Blue Sky

A streak of white light cut across the azure blue sky --

Okay, stop right there. What's wrong with this sentence?

The thing that stands out to me is "azure blue sky." Why? Because it's wasteful. You only get so many words per book. Don't waste even one. You don't need to say, "azure *blue* sky" since azure means "pale blue." That's like saying, "the pale blue blue sky."

Yeah, I know we all tend to zip through the first draft, waxing poetic, as they say, and don't take time to edit our lyrical voices. And the second draft focuses on dialogue (or continuity or chapter hooks or ...), but what about the fifteenth draft? Somewhere along the weary staircase of drafts, we have to stop, catch our breath, and take a close look at the actual words we've used.

Examine your writing. Have you used two words when one would do? On the other hand, did you use one word when two or ten would have been better?

Your characters are stranded on a boat, in the middle of a seemingly endless sea. You write, "Dark clouds approached."

Look at what George R. Stewart wrote in Storm:
"Hour by hour the cloud-deck grew lower and thicker and darker; swift-blown scud sped beneath the low stratus, seeming to skim the wave-crests."
Wow, much tenser than "Dark clouds approached."

Whether you're trying to chisel down your words or use the exact words to evoke an emotion, go through your manuscript and look for the opportunities to make use of the language. No need to say a character's ears were large and projected outward from his head when you could say he was jug-eared.

Next time, we talk about descriptions and how, sometimes, it’s the little things that say the most.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor, book consultant, blogger, and writer. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write!, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its tenth year of publication.

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  1. Great reminder,Helen. Thanks.
    Karen Walker

  2. Good points, Helen. Your approach to giving advice is always so appealing.

  3. So is "blood-red" pencil redundant, too? I thought about The Bloody Pencil, but it seemed so unappetizing at the time. LOL.


  4. I love the recognition here that one draft of any piece should have word usage as its only goal.

  5. There are different shades of red, Dani, so blood red is okay. Sometimes the use of words is based primarily on the emotion you're trying to evoke. And I think you naming this blog The Blood-Red Pencil brings up a certain image to the reader's mind. ;-O

  6. Thanks Helen. Another one for my weekly collection of good posts about writing :)

  7. Speaking of collections of posts, Jon, you had a great collection today!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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