One of the tasks every new writer faces is filtering. There is so much advice available. What should one follow?
Let’s look at how to write characters. In an interview in Poets and Writers last year, Anthony Doerr talked about “giving every character the dignity of complexity.” George Saunders suggests making characters do or believe something opinionated, excessive, passionate if it adds meaning to the story. Zadie Smith warns us in her wonderful lecture That Crafty Feeling “how delicate a thing character is. . . characterization occurs with the lightest of brushstrokes.”
So, a light brushstroke to dignify a character by showing their excessive feelings? Got it! Or not.
I’m editing the third draft of my novel right now, looking at each character with this advice in mind. I’m choosing what to do, or not do, on each relevant page. Am I making the right choices? Who knows! We’ll see how it reads and feels when I’m done.
It’s a little clearer what to do with adverbs. Just eradicate them. Here’s a great little segment from Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, quoting Annie Dillard: “You want vivid writing. How do we get vivid writing? Verbs first. Precise verbs. . . . Also, bad verb choices mean adverbs.”
Stephen King has strong feelings about adverbs: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
I’ve been going through a printout of my manuscript and circling adverbs. Sometimes, I am embarrassed to say, there are as many as four on a page! A serious dandelion issue. So I’m doing that weeding as well.
It’s a strange business, editing a novel, a bit like walking across a desert with no geo-locator. I don’t know what to do but focus on what’s right in front of me. For now, that’s circling adverbs. Next week, it’ll be pulling them out! And after that, back to editing my characters!