Monday, October 28, 2013

Self-Editing #10 - Self-Editing for Commentary

Author commentary.  AKA: Common ways authors scream at the reader I WANT YOU TO NOTICE THIS.

You don't want author commentary.  It reads as implausible, dilutes tension, pushes readers out of the story, and will drive any writer-reader absolutely mental.

So, are you guilty?  Check out these five common-taries...

1. Statement 'o' Obvious

Essentially a product of telling when you should be showing (or telling something you've already shown in order to make sure the reader 'got it'), Statement 'o' Obvious usually looks something like:

- One FBI Agent character tells another FBI Agent character "With the Chief cutting costs everywhere, it's going to be that much harder to hunt down our multi-billionaire, jet-setting suspect..."

- Frequent use of dialogue akin to: "I know you already know this, but...", "As you know...", "Like I said last time..."

- In a romance titled Don't Leave Me that centers on the middleaged cop named Frank whose wife left him last year and whose best friend just got shot:  "Frank was frightened of spending the rest of his life alone."

2. Info Dumpado

Hello.  My name is Aimee.  I'm an Info Dumpado Aficionado.  It's been three chapters since my last backstory download...

- Info Dumpado is the scene where seventeen pages are dedicated to a blow-by-blow of the history of bad-blood between the warring brothers currently ruling two factions of your fantasy world.

- In a "touching" scene between your protagonist and her hero, three years of backstory is covered wherein he explains every girlfriend who ever dumped him, how he felt about it, and why it still haunts him to this day.

- It's dialogue punctuated by frequent use of "[Character] did [ghastly action] and then [other character] responded with [equally ghastly action].  Then we all..." etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

3. Character Wonderment

You know that moment, when something important happens, but it's subtle?  Just a look, or a single sentence of dialogue that you - the author - know is IMPORTANT, but the reader might not catch it?  Character Wonderment is the unnecessary pause in action when the POV character thinks...

- "...That other character just looked as me as if she was angry.  But I have no reason to believe she's angry with me.  I'd better file away that GUT INSTINCT that tells me she's angry just in case something happens later that would lead me to believe someone might have a murderous rage boiling in their veins against me."

- "...if I hadn't known better, I would have thought he was lying to me."

- "...While scrubbing himself in the shower, Gus considered Tracey's words the night before.  Had she been flirting with him?  And why did she frown and refuse the drink her Nasty Boss Nathan offered?  Hmmm....  Maybe Gus would keep an eye on him."

4.  Preaching to the Choir

When an author has a message, sometimes the message supercedes the story.  And the people who came along for the ride get lashings of Fire and Brimstone when they're really looking for angels:

- It's the moment the green-loving environmentalist author creates a Serious And Educated Park Ranger in Murder in Yellowstone who proceeds to spend two pages 'telling the hero' about the environmental effects of littering in a national park.

- It's the closet spiritualist who writes a thriller-romance wherein the Pro-Tennis Playing Protagonist is 'coached' by a strangely sage-like young African woman whose step-by-step meditation program singlehandedly saves the day when normal athletic pursuits prove unsuccessful.

- It's two characters who adhere to polar-opposite ends of the political spectrum and argue economic policy for seven pages during a dinner-party.

5. Don't Hate Me 'Cos I'm a Beautiful Writer

Offenders are authors who use six-syllable words to explain a simple concept.  Or whose prose is so beautiful and skillfully crafted, the reader spends more time thinking about the words themselves, than the story they depict.  AKA:

- Progenators of prose who apply recondite idiom to elucidate an elementary supposition.

- Hark! Words fall from her pomegranate lips (whose passion is plumped, calling me) with the artiface of the heroes of olde.  The Bard could only creep in her shadow, cringing 'neath the weight of her glory, when yon branch did lie aslant the brook.

Clear as mud? Good...that's kind of the point...

Your Turn:  What author commentary mistakes do you make, or do you see in work around you?


  1. Hehehehe I love this post! I might do the character wonderment a bit, but I try very very hard not to. :-)

  2. I definitely do 1, 2 and 3. I'm trying not to though. :) Each revision I catch a few more and hopefully I'll kill all those "screams" by the time I'm finished.

    Info dump is my biggest problem.

  3. This was great! Um, yeah I'm guilty of all the above. It's getting better with time thank goodness! I'm less info dumpy.

  4. Awesome advice, thanks Aimee! :)

  5. Wow, great post. This one's getting bookmarked. I'm pretty guilty of Character Wonderment, and info-dumps... And, well, all of them *shame face*
    But that's the glory of editing, right?

  6. I think this is all fine during the rough draft or "thinking draft" to get all this stuff out of your head. In fact, I think you SHOULD do this in Phase 1 because then you can edit it out and your brain isn't still trying to put it in.

    Also: Love the second don't hate me 'cos I'm beautiful example. Hark!

  7. Good post, Aimee. I like convoluted sentences with ten dollar words, rather than five dollar ones, but my writing coach ripped the scales from my eyes a while back. He taught me how to simplify my writing. :D

  8. hhmmmm i am almost certain i replied to this post yesterday... apparently not!

    I'm sure i do many of them however i hate all of them. Which i hate with my passion i don't know.

    IU guess my most hated is probably when the author treats the reader like an idiot. They know that the line is important so the repeat the subtle hint over and over again throughout the story. THinking they are building suspense when actually they are just pissing off the reader and making us feel stupid for not getting it the first time.


    Great post!


  9. I'm an info-dumper. But I'm trying to edit my way out of that bad habit.

    I also dabble in Character Wonderment, and a bit Captain Obvious (although nothing as bad as the whole "as you know" bit)

  10. Hahaha! Ok, that gave me quite a bit of a chuckle :-) I think I info dump sometimes. And then when I read the scene months later I think, where did all this garbage come from? Delete!

    PS. Came over from Sarah's blog hop of her 20 Awesome People :-)

  11. Character wonderment is definitely a trap I fall into, though I did find myself wondering whether ALL instances of this are bad? If so, EEK! Better sharpen that editing axe!