Monday, March 25, 2013

Trust your reader--writing tip

by Henry Louis Haynes

A new book is one you haven't yet  read.

The mean streets that feature stray pit bulls and drive-by shootings are no place for a naïve and innocent middle-school student from an exclusive, gated community in the exurbs. In the young adult story We Don’t Need You Here, Pedro “Pete” Chu-Wright’s world has been turned upside down when his father relocates his well-to-do family to a rough inner-city neighborhood where his father grew up. The father, a famous lawyer and former college basketball legend, has been tapped by the political establishment to start a political career as a state representative from his old neighborhood. However, he must actually live in the ‘hood to meet the residential requirement for election, and he also enrolls his children in the public schools there to make a good impression. Can Pete make the adjustment from attending private schools to attending the same decaying middle school his father once attended? And most of all, can he make it in a world ruled by Malik Jenkins, a complex character who is at once a braggart and a streetwise bully, but is also smart, irrepressible and perceptive? Malik was once an outstanding student but now, under the influence of a half-brother who has returned home, has drifted into a life of gangs and delinquency.


Young Adult/Mystery/Suspense

Question from my e-mail:  I got a ms back from an agent with "Needs tightening!" scrawled across the title page.  Any idea what that means???

Answer:  It means the prose needs tightening.   In other words, as one of my teachers once told me, "Don't let all those words get in the way of what you're trying to say, Arline."

Knowing how to do that is the trick.  Sometimes this happens when, on first or second draft, we put in too many prepositional phrases. In the beginning, I often found it difficult to trust that my reader would really, "Get it!"  I explained everything waaay too much. It's a difficult thing to learn -- to trust your reader.

In an effort to show or explain exactly what we mean, it's only natural to use a lot of prepostions. But when there are too many, it can slow the pace and make the prose hard, or tiresome, to read. Look for words like "to", 'for", "so", "of," "and", "because," and "but". Then check to see if the phrase that follows is really necessary, or if what you have already said is enough. Especially, with "and" and "but" make certain the two elements are not just two ways of saying the same thing. This is one of my own personal failings, and I use the search function on my computer to find prepostions and make certain they are necessary.

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