Swoon Author Cindy Anstey’s Editing Update: A Revision Lesson from Mark Twain
I came across a Mark Twain quote the other day—while looking for something to feed the unquenchable appetite of Twitter. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
I have long since realized that my first (second and third) draft would not be my final draft. No matter how eloquent or erudite I thought my manuscript might be at first blush, it wasn’t so bright and shiny the next day. Grammar, pacing, character development and scenes that didn’t move the plot forward needed to be addressed.
However, as Mark Twain points out, careful word choice is also significant… important… um, beneficial. This is the reason I keep a thesaurus beside me at all times. (The word selection on my computer is crap. Example: crap-no results found. However in my thesaurus, crap has 24 synonyms that include: baloney, bull, foolishness, garbage, refuse, trash, waste, and doggy-do.) If I do nothing else, I try to choose my words cautiously… attentively. No, deliberately. The nuances can make or break a paragraph.
I love these variants—building a world in words. Still, I can’t get too carried away; the expressions I use have to be appropriate for my time period. Writing a historical novel adds another layer to word choice; was it used in the 19th century and in the same context? While you could kick-around in the Victorian era, you certainly could not in the Regency period.
And so, as Love, Lies and Spies was reshaped and the ending rewritten, I kept an eye on my word choices. In giving my main character, Juliana, more control, I needed to change her speech patterns as well—allow her to be determined… focused… clear thinking. She was no longer hesitant; she was skeptical.
The danger of fashioning each sentence, looking for the perfect word, is that you could search forever. Eventually, you must call it quits—send it off, meet your deadline. Not all of my proses are well crafted, but enough are to make me comfortable… content… satisfied.
You’ll have to let me know what you think come April.