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Friday, November 25, 2011


Today we welcome debut mystery author Linda Lovely. DEAR KILLER, set in South Carolina’s Low Country, is the first book in a new series featuring Marley Clark, a 52-year-old retired military intelligence officer who now works security for a gated island community. NO WAKE ZONE, the second book in the series, will be released the second quarter of 2012. To learn more about Linda and her books, visit her website.

Linda is offering a copy DEAR KILLER of  to one of our readers who posts a comment this week. -- AP

Black Friday & The First Draft of a Novel

Today, Black Friday, is the busiest retail shopping day of the year. Or so I’ve heard. Me, I eat turkey sandwiches and treat myself to a good book. I MIGHT venture as far as my backyard. While I’m not BFF with Wal-Mart or Toys-R-Us, I have relatives (we all claim crazy kin, right?) who begin shopping sprees Thanksgiving eve and continue the wallet Olympics for 24 hours straight. Waiting in the freezing predawn, they stamp their feet to ward off frostbite then elbow through crowds to snatch up bargains—even if said merchandise fits no one on their Christmas lists. The purchases are “too” something—cute, funny, clever, chic, warm, cool—to pass up. In no time, the marathon shoppers have stuffed their car trunks to capacity.

I empathize. I amass words in my first drafts faster than holiday shoppers can max out their credit cards. Word counts beyond 110,000? Yup. When I’m in an idea-gathering mode or writing frenzy, I find adverbs and back story irresistible. A twenty-year-old heroine may have so many internal conflicts she’ll experience menopause before she sorts them out. My description of a sunset may wax poetic for a solid page. In other words, I fill up my mystery novel “trunk” with so much extra baggage I don’t even try to close the lid.

That’s fine. Just like my Black Friday warrior kin, I know at least some of my word purchases will be perfect, and the others are “returnable.” Perhaps writing an overweight (okay, obese) first draft isn’t the most efficient way to pen a novel, but I find editing easier than attempting to strategically pad a puny manuscript.

So how do I eliminate my impulse buys? First comes a sentence-by-sentence hunt for adverbs that add no zip, back story that bores, unnecessary “she saids” and pretty, but irrelevant, descriptions. This first pass trims perhaps 10,000 words. Now it’s time for critique partners to make their hatchet recommendations. My cruel but wise CPs have no qualms about identifying slow sections that don’t contribute to plot. If I can’t bring myself to hit the “delete” key, I pack up my prose and copy it to a “scrap file” for future use. Mind you, I’ve never actually mined this scrap heap for a new novel, but the “exchange” policy lessens the sting.

I actually enjoy editing, and I never worry about backsliding. Once words are cut, I feel no urge to search out replacements. Just like my relatives return to penny-pinching after Black Friday, I limit my word splurges to my first drafts. And isn’t everyone entitled to a splurge now and then if there’s a happy ever after ending—like a story that keeps its svelte, target-length shape in print forever?

Okay, readers, do you feel even some of your favorite authors could benefit from tighter editing? What types of passages do you tend to skim to get on with the story? What are your pet “word splurge” peeves? Or do you feel some authors are so driven to meet publisher-dictated word counts that they leave you too few gifts to unwrap?

Thanks for spending time with us today, Linda. Personally, I skip over the sex scenes in books, but that might have something to do with my bitterness over my dead louse of a spouse. What about you, readers? Post a comment to enter the drawing for a copy of DEAR KILLER. -- AP


Liz said...

I drafted papers for work the same way, throwing in the kitchen sink, then trimming and reorganizing. Easier than tracking down that glimmer of an idea.

Island Buzzy said...

too many words, hmmmm.....(as a reader, not a writer) I pass by the paragraphs that make my eyes glaze over..LOL!

Linda Lovely said...

Island Buzzy--That's why I trim, trim, trim after I toss all those words out. It helps to have word count targets. Tightening always makes a work better.

Thanks for stopping by. Glad to see there are other nonshoppers kicking back with me on Black Friday.


Ellis Vidler said...

Good post, Linda. At times, I've found myself skimming subplots that don't add to the progression of the story, descriptive passages that don't tell me anything I care about (James Lee Burke and Pat Conroy excepted), and a few odd bits. I suspect my taste for the irrelevant varies with my mood. :) Mostly if I like the writing, I read on, whatever it is.

Robin Weaver said...

Hi Linda,
I like lean writing and believe you can keep the reader guessing with prime content, i.e. without fat. I know there are people who love a lot of details, but I wamt my tidbits of description incorporated into the story so deftly I don't even notice them.

Cindy Sample said...

Hi Linda. Terrific post today. I'm an ADD reader and writer so I prefer lean writing, sharp dialogue and crisp descriptions. For someone who begins with an enormous first draft, you have mastered the art of editing. DEAR KILLER is absolutely (sorry this adverb was required) one of my favorite books of 2011. Can't wait for the sequel.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Linda,

As William Zinsser says in WRITING WELL, first you wear your writer's hat, at a later time, you switch to your editor's hat. Makes perfect sense. I love your analogy of writing to Black Friday shopping!

Jane R said...

Yes, I'm one of those people who avoids the Black Friday crowds. As far as writing goes, I don't mind very descriptive books as long as the author has truly put some thought into it. A well-written, descriptive passage can transport me to another place and time. That is something I really enjoy. But, I have a problem with a writer who uses a particular word or phase over and over again. It works a time or two but can get old quickly. Some stories demand more descriptive writing, while others are more effective if they are kept lean and concise. It really all depends on the author's abilities and the feeling he is trying to convey.

The Cat From Hell said...

Reading and Black fFriday shopping - I love the comparison! I like books that suck me in, where I devor every word and can't put the book down.
Nellie's Mom

Pauline B Jones said...

I also avoid Black Friday shopping, prefer online whenever possible.

I'm a weird one, I do edit and trim, but my first drafts tend to be "thin" rather than fat and sassy. LOL! I slam down the action, then have to go back looking for places where the characters have NO setting, no senses, no motivation. I spend a lot of time thinking, how can I make things worse for these people? LOL! But like you, I love this place, this time as I rediscover my story, mine it for potential and yes, hack away the stuff that doesn't work.

Love the comparison to shopping! Very fun blog! Congrats and best of luck with new book!

Linda Lovely said...

From the comments, it sounds as if we have two wriring modes. Write fat or lean the first go-round, then edit for success. Maybe I should try the lean route sometime--or maybe it's just that I'm still stuffed with turkey and "lean" sounds like a promise for reform. Thanks for the posts.

Linda Lovely said...

Jane R--I agree with you about repetitive words. I'm not sure how words get stuck in your head and sneak out repeatedly without you noticing. That's another reason for careful editing (and critique partnters). When I've finished your manuscript and edited it, it's time for another read through (like it's a book not a work in progress). That's when I pick up the repeats.

Warren Bull said...

Very apt comparison. It is easier to cut words than credit card debt. Writers whose work is done to submitted to satisfy a contract and needs at least another full revision are easy to spot. Under-developed plots and characters meet over-developed trivia.

Barbara said...

Not sure what to say. I'm not a writer as you will tell. Your comment about the louse of a spouse reminded me about Sue Grafton who said she wrote her first book to kill off her ex. The only editing I do is for a small newsletter and once I was told in no uncertain terms to leave it exactly as sent and I did, bad grammar and all (not real, real picky about grammar)except a misspelled word as I was being vain at the time and thought everyone would think it my fault.

JD Webb said...

Hi, Linda. I search and destroy at the end of each chapter. Eliminating 'that' and as many 'was' and 'were' words as I can, trying to use action verbs. I'm one of the lean people in writing because I can't seem to get lean in real life.
Great post.

Pat Marinelli said...

Hi Linda,

Don't put me in for the Dear Killer giveaway. I, like Cindy, loved it and am not so patiently waiting the the second book in the series.

As for the Black Friday comparison, I shop with a list and write lean, then add or pad later. Considering my first short story was 125,000 words, I've come a long way baby! Now I usually write under the word count.

Say "Hi" to Donna Campbell who pointed me to your novel.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks to everyone for dropping by. Barbara, want to make sure to point out that the "louse of a spouse" comment was from the editor, not me. I'm happily married--36 years and counting. J.D., I'm with you on the search and destroy missions, I just time them differently. Pat, will definitely say hi to Donna Campbell, a wonderful writer, who just needs a few more nudges to write a novel in addition to terrific short stories.