Friday, November 30, 2007

Well Proportioned


Young Woman in Blue,
Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
DeWitt Wallace Collection.

Though I still make copious notes-to-self, sometimes in legible script and sometimes in undecipherable glyphs, in my writing I have progressed from blowing paint on cave walls to composing on my computer.

I am so pleased with myself.

But yesterday, after finishing a scene that contained a fair amount of dialogue, I realized I could not judge, by scrolling back and forth, whether the overall proportions of dialogue, action and description meshed appropriately or were out of kilter. If, indeed, the verbal jeans made my ass look big.

My mental sense of narrative correlation, of visual balance, has not adjusted to the screen medium.

I will have to print out the passage to determine if my dialogue goes on too long, to decide if the scene needs insertions/deletions to keep it from sitting there like a snore of snails.

I will have to see the scene as it might appear on physical pages.

Balance/proportion of component parts is likely another reason why writing gurus advise printing out a manuscript at some stage in the revision process.

Not only words, but also whole passages look different in page form. And that form is -- we hope -- how the reader will see them.


Some Superior Words with Industry Application:

manque: adj., short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations, a synonym for an unpublished writer.

recusants: n. those who refuses to accept established forms or authority, ie. unpublished writers ( see above) who occupy, they say, a large portion of industry mail ( see below) by their persistence in sending non-fiction agents their hand-written fantasy masterpieces, with glitter, and with grandious references to a New York newspaper -- and who then follow their rejections with nasty notes.

rejectamenta: n. another word for slush pile.


43 comments:

Church Lady said...

There was a discussion about this on the SCBWI boards a while back. I remember someone suggesting color-coding your text.
Green= dialogue
Black=non dialgoue

I loved that idea, but nobody ever mentioned what the proportion should be. Is it 50/50 overall for the entire book? I know it's not a science, but are there norms?

StarvingWriteNow said...

rejectamenta... what a lovely, exotic sounding word for a horrible little place. It rolls right off the tongue, and would surely make cocktail parties more interesting!

"I'm sending my manuscript to the rejectamenta."

Bernita said...

Objective proportions - rule of thumb, Chris?
I have no idea. There may be too many individual variables.
My preference is for dialogue to be positioned in short spurts, not page after page of it, even in books that move mostly on dialogue.

Vesper said...

You were wondering "If, indeed, the verbal jeans made my ass look big." I have to laugh! Good post, Bernita! You put me in a good mood for the day! :-)

Bernita said...

I deform almost everything to writing, Starving, but the word could also be applied to former relationships: "Oh, him...just one of my rejectamenta.

Bernita said...

~grins at Vesper~

Jaye Wells said...

I print everything out. Then I highlight the different elements--dialogue, description, action, tension, visceral emotion, etc. Then you lay it all out and see where you have colors missing. The proportions depend on the type of scene and amount of tension. It's a technique I learned from Margie Lawson. If you ever get a chance to check out her workshops, do it.

Bernita said...

Sounds like a practical method, Jaye.

bunnygirl said...

Not only does it look different when printed, but it looks different depending on where and how you read it.

I've read things that looked just fine when I'm sitting at my desk but were missing whole WORDS (cleverly supplied by my own deranged mind) when I read the same passages while lying in bed.

Being your own editor is no picnic.

Bernita said...

The form and format certainly affects our perception, Bunny.

Robyn said...

I can imagine an editor or agent giving an arch look over her snooty glasses and saying, "This? Complete, hopeless, irreversible rejectamenta."

moonrat said...

thanks, bernita. very nice.

the biggest problem (and one you don't have at all, by the way, so thanks again!!) is the endless paragraph. i wish more authors felt more comfortable suing a line return now and then!! because i'm just going to crack open their long paragraphs later anyway.

Dave F. said...

When I get a long section of dialog I invariably find that the characters repeat themselves. That is, say the same thing in two different ways. One of my bad habits from talking too much.
That's when I have to go to print or do some computer trick to find the repeat.

I also have trouble with all of the scrolling when I want a character to foreshadow something. in one chapter and use it in a later chapter.

Bernita said...

Me too, Robyn!

Eh, Moondear, I hit the enter key with enthusiasm.
Sometimes, I'm afraid, too often!
Dense paragraphs are a non-fiction habit which I hope I've overcome.

My main fault in dialogue is the opposite, Dave. Usually my characters don't say enough.
And it doesn't help that they seem by nature retiscent, and other people have to pry information out of them. Makes for fishing line style of dialogue.

Bernita said...

Make that "reticent."

Julie said...

Still laughing over the verbal jeans.

Found Jaye's comment on colour coding a real eye opener...and moonrats on long para's.

Bernita said...

The preference, at least in genre fiction, is for lots of white space, Julie.
Encourages the eye to move down the page.

raine said...

First thing I thought of when I saw the word 'rejectamenta' was a compost pile. I see I was right...

Lol at the "verbal jeans".

I also need to print everything out, usually sooner rather than later. My computer-composed efforts read more like synopses than finished work--maybe because I type faster than I write.
And it's the only way (for me) to catch the dreaded run-on sentences. Sneaky bastards.

Bernita said...

I find I can run down and stomp a lot of little buggers when I have print pages, Raine!

Charles Gramlich said...

That's a good point, but I actually tend not to print out and read in hard copy. I probably should, but I essentially learned how to write on screen so I think it seems natural to me.

You can, btw, set up most word files to show you two pages side by side, if that would be helpful.

Bernita said...

I'm sure it would be helpful, Charles. It would give that sense of physical context.
But I do well to open a document in Word and make headers and such.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have a 17-inch wide screen, and it allows me to see two whole pages at a time. I cannot tell you how much easier it is for me to write with that display. We are trained to see whole pages, and seeing a partial screen of a page drives me crazy.

Bernita said...

Interesting how the physical context affects both the reader and the writer in subtle ways.

Julie said...

I know you'd need the technology, but IT son uses two 17" flat monitors side by side when programming to open separate files.

cyn said...

bernita, i also switched from handwritten to laptop during my rough draft process. i know i *should* print out my 300+ pages and read it aloud/mark it up for revision. but the thought of having to go back into the laptop to make those changes seem so tedious. i may have to suck it up and do the dirty deed.

besides, printing out my entire novel for the first time seems a reward. =)

Shauna Roberts said...

I almost always write and edit only on screen. Arthritis makes typing less painful than writing. If I had to write in my edits, I wouldn't make many. On screen, I'm willing to cut and paste and delete and add with abandon.

The Anti-Wife said...

"Verbal jeans" - great picture. I'm very visual so printing things our and marking them appropriately is very helpful.

Bernita said...

Julie, one screen is quite enough for me to handle!

You could print out and edit a chapter at a time, Cyn.Then it wouldn't seem to tedious.

I sometimes just read my hard copy, Shauna, note the glitches, but do the edits on the screen.

I'm wired the same way, AW.

Bailey Stewart said...

Because of arthritis in my fingers, I have to write at the laptop. I immediately print out everything I write for a read through, not just to see a scene, but to read it outloud. (I can't read at the computer). Love the definitions!

Shesawriter said...

The only way I know when my scenes are okay is if I don't read them for a week or so. Trying to judge them right after I've written them is a waste of my time. My eyes are too jaundiced then. I need distance.

Anonymous said...

Screen editing runs the risk of becoming cosmetic when major surgery is required.

Sometimes I find it easier to lump as much as I can into the document, higgledy-piggledy, and print it out. Then I slash numbers and arrows through the forest of words.

This visual blazing of the way helps me organize and develop the meta-message far more effectively than the screen. And paper doesn't crash during open-heart revisions.

writtenwyrdd said...

anon has an excellent point. It's easy to fiddle but not really fix major problems on screen.

I don't edit much on hard copy, but I do tick the margin with a comment (trans error, spelling, etc) and move along. I think that maybe the old time advice of cutting your scenes and switching them around might work well using a hard copy. I've tried this on a small scale trying to fix a section, but not for an entire manuscript.

Might prove useful for someone, though!

And, despite moonrat's professional opinion, I don't mind long paragraphs if they don't lose me in the middle. Since they generally do, however, I tend to avoid them myself.

Dave F. said...

I was forced to learn to edit 200 plus pages for work.

To cut and past scenes (several whole paragraphs or full pages) you put a marker at the destination and another marker at the cut point. I use percent signs for markers %%%%%% or ampersands &&&&&. anything that can be found easily when you scan. Color helps. Make them red or blue or a different font.

The other thing I do when I plan a huge cut and paste is to save the file as a new version - either an 02, or 03, or a 4a, 4b, 4c,
Then I do the change and if it fails and I can't use REDO to recover, I have the previous version to fall back on.

Bernita said...

Well, bugger!
We just had a power glitch and there went my comments...

Another of technologie's many benefits, Bailey!

I think most of us edit in stages, Tanya.Time/distance always gives a new perspective.

I can fix little things on screen, Anon, but I need hard copy to find what is not there ( but should be.)

Print may help us see the work as the reader will see the work, Written.

Then I wonder if readers who e-read consistently notice the same things print readers might.

Saving/new file is an excellent and very wise procedure, Dave.

Jeff said...

"If, indeed, the verbal jeans made my ass look big."

I nearly spit out a mouth full of coffee when I read this line. LOL!
Lester read it too, and now he's pestering me to buy him a pair of "verbal jeans" for Christmas.
That boy!

Bernita said...

Aw, Jeff...I'm sure Lester would look great in |
"verbal Jeans."

spyscribbler said...

Fascinating! I've never written a story on paper before, so I would have the opposite problem as you! I've never printed out a manuscript before, either.

Just me and my trusty screen. I sometimes question if I'd be able to write at all without a computer.

Bernita said...

Natasha, I wodered if e-writers might have the same problem in reverse.

Sam said...

I never really thought about this - I'll have to go and look. I usually check chapter legnth by shrinking the 'view' screen to 25% - and that shows me how many pages at a glance, for example, I've got in a chapter or if one chapter is too chort or too long.

ORION said...

I do lots of dialogue and my agent and editor call me the paragraph queen LOL.
Oh well I think readers like lots of white space...at least I do...especially if there are pictures.

Robin S. said...

Hi Bernita-

I'm having editing troubles because I have hand-written 'sudden inspiration' notes all over hell's half acre, and I have a Word-typed manuscript with only some of these notes inside it so far. And I'm going a little nuts - because the hand-written stuff is often some of my best work - so I really want it to blend with the larger piece. It's tough.

Julie said...

- Tim Hallinan made a good point in The Log Cabin a week or so ago about using a second note screen open inside the first for notes if that's relevant.

I think the free program he uses is 'Office works??'

Bernita said...

Your internal sense of balance might have become instinctive, Sam.

Agents and editors claim they do, Pat.
Dense paragraphs might remind readers too much of school work and dull reports.

"hand-written 'sudden inspiration' notes"

Oh, me too, Robin!
Am trying to develop the habit of incorporating them into the MS ASAP, before they break out of the corral and run away into the badlands.

For those who are technically competent, Julie, that certainly should work.