Crutches: Do You Have Them? — August 2, 2011

Crutches: Do You Have Them?

I’m sure you do.  I know I do.

Last Tuesday I talked about how I decide how to deal with inconsistencies (aka plot dust bunnies) that show up in my work.

You know how I said that I didn’t notice the inconsistencies until I was gearing up to move the story to my sixth draft?

Well, reading through the manuscript to highlight all those inconsistencies also illuminates another issue: crutch words, phrases, body language, etcetera.

If it’s a crutch you’ll spot it as you go through doing what I outlined on Tuesday.

My strategy for dealing with this?  Well, first, you’re going to be at the end of the manuscript before it really sinks in that, “Wow, my characters smile a lot.”  Or whatever crutch you find.  When you know what your crutch(es) is(are), use the search function in your word processor.  If it’s a single word, take off any plural you might think is there.  This will help you find the singular and plural forms and if it’s something like eyed, taking the d off and using just the base word, will help you find most variants.

Pick a highlighter color (it’s best if you’re doing this highlighting after you’ve highlighted the inconsistencies but before you’ve gone and fixed them so that your colors don’t cross-pollinate and such), and use it with reckless abandon.  Sort of.

When the search function finds an instance of the inputted word, it is automatically selected in full so you can just click on the highlighter tool/drop-down menu and pick your color then hit the “Next” button.  Also be sure to note it in your log.

Repeat this process for every crutch you identified in your reading.

Now, either before or after you’ve fixed the inconsistencies you can scroll through and find those crutches and figure out which get to stay and which have to go.  Most times, and do as I say not as I do, stronger body language can be used, or a stronger word.  I tried to fall into a rhythm of eliminating every other instance of the crutch.  I wasn’t always successful, but there you have it.

Turn of Phrase: Master It — June 24, 2011

Turn of Phrase: Master It

I started to title this as “dialogue” instead of “turn of phrase,” but I made the change because I think that, while my examples will be dialogue from movies (readily available for me to find), it can apply to just about any word we write in our stories.

“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.  A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day…This day we fight!”-Lord of the Rings

What do we learn from this one?  That the dialogue, the description, needs to match the tone of everything.  (Captain Obvious, here.  I’ve taken over for Stephanie today on the writing.)  Not just the mood of the scene that we’re trying to convey, but the tone of the genre, of the world at large (the world we’ve created and fleshed out in the pages of our story).  Plus, this is a nifty call-back to when the Fellowship is broken at the shores of Amon-hen.

“Good morning.  In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world.  And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.  ‘Mankind.’  That word should have a new meaning for all of us today.  We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore.  We will be united in our common interests.  Perhaps it’s fate that today is the fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom.  Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution.  But from annihilation.  We are fighting for our right to live.  To exist.  And should we win the day, the fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night!  We will not vanish without a fight!’  We’re going to live on!  We’re going to survive!  Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”-Independence Day

Just typing this one out gives me chills and makes me tear up.  This has to be my all-time favorite movie speech.  From this we learn that our turns of phrase, even if we’re making them up for a fantasy world, need to have something the reader can relate to so they can feel the emotion you’re trying to evoke.

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”-Raiders of the Lost Ark

Does anything sum up a character better?  (Okay, maybe “Why’d it have to be snakes.”)

“It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

For me, this is one line that really sums up the entirety of Harry’s emotional journey from book 1 to book 7.  And if we master turns of phrase well enough, we can find these little gems in our own writing.  And if we place it at just the right moment, from just the right character, it won’t come off as pithy.

“That night, Clara’s mother, the town witch, came to the Wilhurn house seeking revenge.  She wanted these blue-bloods to feel the pain of rejection her daughter felt and commanded that the next Wilhurn daughter be born with the face of a pig.  ‘And only when one of your own kind claims this daughter as their own, ’til death do they part, will the curse be broken.'”-Penelope

It’s this last one that really inspired this post.  The way we word things can mask or reveal what’s to come.  I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it.  (Why haven’t you seen it?  I mean, James McAvoy?  C’mon!  Okay, so it’s a really cute movie, too, and you should watch it.  Especially moms with their daughters.)

So, any other great quotes (from books or movies) that I’ve missed that you think can teach us a great lesson?  Have you watched Penelope?  Any of these movies?