This is How We Polish

Turns out this writing thing is subjective. Did you know that? So often what works even better than tips on critique is an actual example.

To that end, and because I have to daily read the same stories over and over and over, and because not all of these stories had the benefits of modern editing techniques (or so it seems), I'm going to inflict upon you the same bad prose my boys inflict upon me. Then I'm going to try and fix it.

Yes, I'm aware of how passive aggressive this is.

Before we get into this, note that I'm not a professional editor. I'm not even a professional writer (or I just barely am, depending on what counts). I'm not claiming I Know How To Edit. I'm just giving my opinion on how this could be made better.

Got all that? Let's do it. This is from the mind-numbing tale Garfield the Easter Bunny?*

      "Tomorrow is Easter, boys," said Jon Arbuckle to Garfield the cat and Odie the dog. "We've got to get ready for the Easter Bunny."
      Garfield and Odie watched excitedly as Jon took three Easter baskets from the closet and set them on the table. There was one basket for each of them.
      Garfield looked at his basket and frowned. "My basket is much too small," he said. "I want something about the size of a bathtub."
      "When we wake up tomorrow," said Jon, "these baskets will be filled with treats."
      "By the time you wake up, my tummy will be filled with your treats," thought Garfield with a sly grin.

Rather than do a line edit, I'm going to pick on three things and discuss how they can be fixed. Then I'll rewrite this my own way. Again, your opinion may vary, and that's totally cool. Subjective, remember?
  1. Introducing the characters. All three characters are introduced in the first dialogue tag, but inelegantly. It's a mouthful to read and unnecessary. First of all, we don't need to know Jon's last name (especially since this is his only appearance in the story). Secondly, while identifying Garfield and Odie as the animals they are is important, it's awkward to do it all at once. In my example, I cut "the cat" and "the dog" entirely simply because there's a picture of them on every page--it's obvious what they are. In a novel, I'd suggest more subtle ways of telling the reader what they are. Odie wagging his tail or barking, for instance.
  2. Dialogue Tags. You don't need a dialogue tag every time someone speaks. I see this a lot in children's books, but you don't need it there either. Kids are smart, and they read the same books over and over again. They'll figure it out, and by not holding their hand, you'll help make them smarter. So, if the speaker is obvious (as is often the case with only two speakers) you can simply drop a lot of the tags. If there's some ambiguity, use an action sentence to imply the speaker as I do in the example at the end.
  3. Adverbs. I'm not a stickler for killing adverbs, but I think it's always a good idea to pay attention to them. When you see one, ask yourself if there's a stronger verb or noun that can be used, or if there's some other way the emotion (or whatever) can be expressed.
Here's an edited example, with my changes in bold. I made at least one change not covered by the tips above. See if you can figure out why.

      "Tomorrow is Easter, boys," said Jon to Garfield and Odie. "We've got to get ready for the Easter Bunny."
      Garfield and Odie watched wide-eyed as Jon set three Easter baskets on the table--one for each of them.
      Garfield frowned. "My basket is much too small. I want something about the size of a bathtub."
      Jon pat Garfield between the ears. "When we wake up tomorrow, these baskets will be filled with treats."
      Garfield smirked. "By the time you wake up, my tummy will be filled with your treats," he thought.

What do you think? Do you agree with my changes? What would you have done differently?

* I apologize if you like this book (or wrote it, or edited it, etc.). If it makes you feel any better, it's not the worst book in my house. And anyway, my boys obviously like it.


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm going to disagree with you about the dialogue tags for young children. This is only because when kids are just learning to read, it is difficult enough to decode, read with cadence, sound out tough words, decipher from context, remember site words, and all the rest, it's nice to not have to remember who is talking too. Hence the dialogue tag prevalence. However, I would say this is only true for very early readers, and yet the same rules are applied across the children's book spectrum, which makes reading them painful (for the adults). Your snippet is reading level 4.4 (fourth grade, fourth month) - well beyond the reading level where dialogue tags are helpful - so, yes please. Kill them. :)

The rest is outstanding, and I love your rewrite. Makes you want to stab your eyes out a little less after the 100th reading. :)

p.s. if you really want torture, try reading Power Rangers or Bionicle.

Adam Heine said...

Thank you for the (far more knowledgeable than me) opinion on dialogue tags for children, Susan. All I know is I hate reading the tags aloud on every single sentence (and don't get me started on the ones that decide 'said' is too common a tag!).

I hope nobody ever gives us Power Rangers or Bionicle books. My boys would love it immediately, I know, and then my doom would be sealed.

Joshua McCune said...

I agree with your changes, though I'd add some violence and mayhem in there :)

Adam Heine said...

Oh, to be sure, Bane. Ninjas too.

Hey, where'd Susan's comments go? Did Blogger eat them?

dolorah said...

So nice to see I'm not the only one with disappearing comments. Blogger must be in the twilight zone today.

Love your changes; and totally agree with you on name dropping and too much description in the first line. But I like to introduce my characters slowly and separately, so there is very little need for dialogue tags. Bane will be pleased to note I rely on "voice" for that.

There are worse ways to spend an evening of entertainment with the kids than a Garfield "Novel". Most of those pictures need no words at all.