By Victoria Bylin
This past year, I decided to stretch my wings. In addition to writing the proverbial “book of my heart” aka BOMH, I started working with a critique partner. I’ve written fourteen books for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical, but I’ve always worked alone.
I thought I was an experienced writer.
I thought I knew how to plot a story.
I thought I had a good ear for language.
Oh. My. Goodness. When I finished the first draft of the BOMH, I shared a chapter with my best friend, an award winning author. She had a few ideas. More than a few. Every one of those ideas-from word choice to plot shifts-proved to be valuable.
I didn’t realize it, but I’d fallen into a rut. Mentally I had incorporated every writing rule I’ve ever read, and that obedience had limited my voice. As we worked on that first chapter, I realized that my sentences lacked variety, and my diction wasn’t as precise as I thought. Adverbs? Nope. G.O.N.E.. But there were places were an adverb would have been stunningly useful. Use a semi-colon? Maybe, but aren’t they considered distracting? Not always. Sometimes they’re the perfect link between two ideas. (I used one somewhere in the blog. Can you find it?)
My CP and I have a lot of fun when we do a phone edit. She’s big on strong verbs. So am I, but my writing style is simpler. We had a good time playing with synonyms for “to walk.” This verb is particularly synonym-challenged. How many ways can you describe a person walking? Here’s where my mind went in a moment of hair-pulling insanity:
Annoyed, he walked to the sliding glass door and looked out.
Annoyed, he scampered to the sliding glass door and looked out.
Annoyed, he marched to the sliding glass door…
Annoyed, he did the cha-cha to the sliding glass door . . .
Annoyed, he sidled to the sliding glass door …
Annoyed, he crawled to the sliding glass door …
Annoyed, he bunny-hopped to the sliding glass door …
Annoyed, he kicked like a Rockette to the sliding glass door …
Annoyed, he said, “Forget it! I’m not getting off the couch!”
My hero told me in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to walk, he’d walk. No way would he march, pace, amble, shamble, shuffle, waddle, toddle or kick like a Rockette. He did consent to stride, but only after I convinced him I hadn’t used that word in the past two chapters.
The trick to better diction isn’t necessarily finding a synonym; it’s finding a different way to convey the action. I struggle with body language, but I’m learning to use it more effectively.
Let’s have some fun . . . Another synonym-challenged verb is “to gaze.” My characters all tend to stare and glare. What do your characters do with their eyes?
Victoria Bylin writes about cowboys, outlaws and preachers. Check out her most recent story in Brides of the West,available now on Amazon. Vicki’s books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com