Three Dirty Birds on Self-Editing and the Wall o’ Text

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Three Dirty Birds are Talking about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Today’s topic is: Three Dirty Birds and the Wall o’ Text.

Ana: I hear the wall of text can be beaten with the use of the enter key!

Kate: I think that’s a Level One spell.

Ana: Word wizards learn it earlier.

Kate: Lol. This is where writing kind of crosses paths with visual media. One odd little tip that I was given a long time ago was to make sure there was enough ‘white space’ on the page. Readers find blocks of text intimidating, it’s easy to get lost in them. And readers of today, raised on commercials and gaming, need more white space than readers from early twentieth, or even mid-twentieth, century readers. it’s an easy check, and tells you exactly where to look for places to give your reader a breather, or a place to grab onto so they don’t lose their place on the page.

Zoe: On the rare occasion when I have a character who has to get some words out all at once, I always panic a little, because I’ve read over and over that character’s shouldn’t talk too much without interruption. This chapter made me feel a little better about doing it from time to time. Sometimes it does just have to be done!

Kate: It has to serve a point. And that’s where the sentence length and structure comes into it, helping you get your emotion across. But there are times where that block of text is just what needs to happen to get the reading in the right mindset for the payoff coming later.

Ana: Another neat effect of line breaks is that a line that’s separated from the paragraph to stand on its own can have more impact. I know during editing LRL my editor pointed out a few places where I could do this for dramatic effect. (Mostly at the end of a chapter/scene)

Kate: I have to watch myself with those, because I LOVE using them. And it’s easy to overdose.

Browne mentions varying your paragraph lengths depending on whether you want to raise tension, lower it, or lure your unwary reader into a sense of complacency before the monster jumps out at them. I think there’s a natural tendency to do that, especially in action scenes, but when you pay attention to it, you can be writing text that should not raise tension, and still do it with the paragraph structure. Again, something you don’t want to do too often, but it’s fun when it works. 🙂

Ana: Yes, playing around with paragraph length can be fun. Just break up a page in different places and see how it changes the reading flow.

Kate: It’s funny, as we go through this book, how many little tricks I see that I can use, and it makes me excited to be writing again.

Zoe: Oh good!

Ana: I’m totally excited about my new story, but that’s probably because it’s still new and shiny. You’ll probably hear me grumble about it in two weeks.

Kate: Lol.

The best part about this chapter was the examples, and showing how the blocks of text, large and small, worked to convey some aspect of the story that you couldn’t just write. I’m finding the examples she used throughout the book very helpful for the most part, though there are the occasional ones where I can’t see why things weren’t fine the way they were. And that tells me either it’s a genre thing, or I need to up my game. (probably the latter)

Zoe: Was the one with the drowning girls one where you couldn’t see why it wasn’t fine the way it was?

Kate: I could see there was something off about it. No, not off. It was fine the way it was. I would have read that and not complained, I think. But the second version had much more punch, emotionally. Looking back, I see why the changes had to be made, but I couldn’t pick it out without the after to compare to.

Zoe: I liked the way the first one ended. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the first one, I’d have thought the second was great, but the first draft got me harder. (Well, except that I kept confusing who was who, but that was just because it was a snippet out of context.)

Ana: I liked the second version, but it just goes to show that different readers will like different things.

Kate: And that’s the thing that stresses writers out so much. No wonder we drink. Because we’re people pleasers. 😛

Zoe: That is the thing.

Ana: Need a glass of gin to save the day?

Zoe: I prefer a drink that doesn’t hog the spotlight so much. With gin, apparently, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GIN. (All my experience with gin comes from that one book.)

Ana: Aw, what drink can I serve you then?


And that’s it for the Three Dirty Birds today, as we all run off to the kitchen for milkshakes and rum.

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