Sunday, February 21, 2016

Author Shorthand

I'm one of a whole herd of writers who write a very loose and sloppy first draft, then spend months going back over it, smoothing it out, filling in the blanks, adding scenes that were skipped over in our haste to put an ending on the manuscript. One of the things that gets done during this style of writing is we use placeholders, a type of author shorthand, for various emotions. If you're an author, you know what I mean. It's a roll of the eyes, chewing on the lip, running one's hand over someone. We know there are better ways of expressing disdain, nervousness or endearment, and we'll get to it during the second, third or fourth draft of the project.

There's nothing wrong with this approach to writing, as long as, during the editing stage, you do, in fact, take the time to remove the shorthand, and in its place, add in a unique turn of phrase to convey what you mean.


My crutch seems to be running one's hand down, over, into another person. And I never realized it until I was going through my latest round of edits from my publisher. My first editor didn't flag my constant use of the crutch, but the second one pointed out each and every one. And boy, there were a ton! This is romance, so some touching is to be expected. But, I overused. I relied on the running of hands to convey they sense of touch, when there are so many other ways to get the point across, if I'd only taken the time.


Needless to say, I did take the time in this round of edits to eliminate my author shorthand, and to insert other ways to get my point across. Now I have one more thing to add to my author checklist–don't overuse running of the hands. Once or twice in a story is fine, but beyond that, it should be avoided.

How about you? What author shorthand do you have, if any? Are you aware of it when you're using it? At what point do you go back and fill in the shorthand with what you really meant to say?

15 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Becky! I admit I've never even considered shorthand. My drafts--at least the most recent one--tend to be pretty tight without too much missing, although there's certainly plenty to be done in the editing stage. My biggest overuse is looking (and smiling), so today I'll be going through the manuscript I just finished and getting rid of most of them!

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    1. We all seem to have favorite words or phrases. That's what makes editing so hard. We need to control our natural tendencies and try to create something unique.

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  2. Hi Becky, Excellent post! Like Marin, I tend to overuse certain words--looking, smiling, nodding, just, etc. I use the Search and Replace key to find these words and capitalize them. I do the same with "ly"...only way to get cut down on those pesky adverbs. As I go through the manuscript, these words shout, forcing me to make the necessary changes.

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    1. I like your technique of doing a search and replace and capitalizing them. That way, you can visually see how often you're using them. Somehow, just knowing you've used the word "just" forty times doesn't have the same impact as actually seeing where you've used it.

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    2. Oooh... the capitalizing before edits is a great idea!

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  3. I have the same problem you have, Becky. Hands, hands, hands. Yikes.

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    1. We are a touchy bunch, aren't we, Tina?

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  4. I seem to have a lot of "deep breaths" going on in mine to show nervousness. I also use "that" a lot and have to go back through and eliminate. I keep a list of over used words in my iPad and go back through and eliminate as many of these as I can during the editing process. Here are they are in case this is helpful to anyone reading this blog:

    Really, very.
    That
    Just.
    Then.
    Totally, completely, absolutely, literally.
    Definitely, certainly, probably, actually, basically, virtually.
    Start, begin, began, begun.
    Rather, quite, somewhat, somehow.
    Said, replied, asked, and any other dialogue tag.
    Wonder, ponder, think, thought, feel, felt, understand, realize.
    Breath, breathe, inhale, exhale.
    Shrug, nod, reach.

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    1. I have a couple lists like this, too. One for words to never use, and for those I can use sparingly. I think everyone's list will be slightly different, although you and I have some in common.

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  5. Great post, Becky. I'm a -ing action person. My folks are always doing something in an -ing fashion. And breathing-- gracious, I have them sighing, huffing, exhaling more than a runaway dog. It's always something we have to lean on, right?

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    1. Love your runaway dog image! As long as we're aware there's a crutch and we can eventually get rid of it, so much the better.

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  6. Excellent post! I have a bag of words I overuse and will generally go through and change them. In one manuscript I used beauty four times so I discovered there are many ways to describe beauty! I avoid dialogue tags but sometimes they serve to enhance a statement.

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    1. Thanks, Kim, for sharing today. I avoid dialogue tags, too, whenever possible. Slows down the read, I think.

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  7. I've got a list of overused words and emotional phrases I search for in every manuscript. Gut clenching, fingers through the hair, looking are some of my favs. Search and replace takes at least a week after the first draft is done, especially for sections that I got into the zone on.

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    1. Search and replace--where would we be without it?

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