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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Look ma, no "look"

 So I'm back to revising mode and not exactly diving in with a lot of grace. Something is sort of... off. During my vacation from writing, I stayed up 'til 11 or 12 reading, writing blog entries, even tidying up my other manuscript a bit. I was keeping up the same schedule, but still when I started going through revisions once more on Sunday night, I only got about an hour into it before...ZONK! My head hit the computer (trust me, not good when you get a big line of j's running through your manuscript). I could barely keep my eyes open, and the same thing happened the next night, and the next. I don't know what's up with that. I'm hoping it was just the task I was doing- eliminating overuse of the word "look" was too mundane or something.  Anywho, I've decided to talk about those revisions I did over the past few days and illustrate how to decide when to keep this word and when to eliminate it.

1.When "look" is a part of the dialogue. Usually in this instance it's ok to keep the word because people use it in their speech all the time. 
An example from NW: “She looked tired when she got home last night so I didn’t get into it with her.” 
Now it would sound pretty silly for Nikki's mother to say, "She appeared tired..." because people jsut don't talk that way. Possibly she could have said "She seemed tired" but that would imply that more had gone on than her mother just glancing at her, and I didn't want to give the indication that they had interacted at all, so I just kept the looked.

2. When "look" is used to describe an action that is taking place. 
Example: I looked down at the napkin he’d been ripping, now a pile of dust. 
In this case, you can substitute looked for a more descriptive verb such as peered, glanced, gazed. Others to consider that don't work so well in this instance, but you should still keep in mind : squinted, leered, gaped, gawked, peeped, ogle, searched, watched. Or, if you don't want to substitute, you can try re-arranging the sentence or put something entirely different in its place. I did this a lot in this round of revisions because it seemed like almost every other sentence I had people looking up, looking down, looking to the side or looking away. Sometimes it's better to just eliminate these types of sentences and force yourself to find new things for your characters to do instead of always "looking". 

3. When "look" is used to describe someone or their expression. 
Example: “Yes, but Maxine…” He looked disturbed, though not as much as I felt.  
This is one instance where the word look should definitely be replaced because this is a clear instance of telling rather than showing. This is how I changed it, and I might still play with it some, but you get the idea. “It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said, twisting his hands together. He lifted his head toward the stairs. Here we get the idea that Sam may be nervous or disturbed without having to actually say it. 

In summary, I started out with 276 instances of look or looked in my manuscript, and by the time I was done I had cut that number in half, and most surprising, I didn't even increase my word count. Amazing! If you've noticed I have a little poll going on up at top, and I'd love it if you would participate. If you have any other suggestions on what I should blog about, I'd appreciate it!!

P.S. Sorry for all the goofiness with the fonts - Blogger doesn't like it when you cut and paste. Darn Blogger!!


Melanie said...

Angie, this was soooooooo helpful. Especially since I'm about to enter the world of revision and will be looking for those keys, overused words that I need to tediously eliminate. I voted for more revision tips for blog posts, but obviously it's self-serving ;-) Your book reviews are awesome, so I suspect you'll get a lot of votes on that. I'm just so far behind in my reading that even though I'm reading your reviews, I have no idea when I'll get to those books. Just make sure you keep adding all your reviews to the tab up top so I can check them out when I've brought my current list of books to read down.

Jennie Bailey said...

Angie, I love this! This is very helpful. It's also good to know that we all have our "favorite" words. The examples you gave on where "look" is appropriate were great!

Bee said...

I will echo everyone else out here, this is really helpful. I use and over and over-over-use 'look' and gah, I have to do something about it when I get down to thorough editing mode.



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