Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Editing "The Resurrection" (Part Four of Four)

We've been working through a four-part series on Mike Duran's entertaining debut novel, "The Resurrection."

Today, we'll finish with some thoughts on speech patterns, and a list of line-editing comments.
MINOR SPOILERS ALERT: Read and enjoy the book first, then see if you agree:

Mid-Altitude issues (continued):

3) Character speech patterns:  Mike chooses to employ a fair number of phonetic spellings throughout the novel ("lottsa,"  "ya know..."  "shoulda..."). I would counsel him to consider using fewer, for two reasons:

a) The sheer number of repetitions became a bit distracting, for me. Dialogue that attempts to render dialect into black and white is simply harder to read, and my preference is to see it used sparingly, for particular effect. A little goes a long way, which leads to the second, related reason...

b) Almost every character in the book, with the exception of Keen, uses phonetically-spelled dialogue, at least on occasion. Consequently, the speech patterns aren't as effective as they could be as a means of differentiating characters.

Speech patterns are a wonderfully nuanced way to Show, not Tell. Mike nails this perfectly with Keen: even when agitated, Keen's speech is laced with sophisticated diction and syntax, delivered in a pedantic tone that instantly communicates this man's arrogance...the smug superiority he exudes through displaying his knowledge and philosophy. You don't have to tell us what Keen is like, we intuit it naturally, like we do in the real world, from the way he speaks.

But language used by the other characters rarely differentiates them as individuals, with varying personalities, backgrounds, and educational levels. The most noticeable and distressing example, I believe, comes from the character of Beeko.

Beeko is a physician from Nigeria, who grew up outside of Bwari, and speaks with a slight, but unmistakable British accent. From this description, and subsequent events, I infer a few things: a) English is his second language; b) at the very least, he was educated in British schools, and very likely his college years were spent in the class-conscious environment of England itself; c) he is a learned man, and d) Clark specifically seeks out Beeko because he values the doctor as a man of rational thought.

Assuming these things as given, that leads me to expect a certain language style from the character. Perhaps not an arrogant one, as with Keen, but speech patterns that are precise and formal (as with many English-as-a-second-language students), and erudite (throwing in words that even the seminary-trained Clark may be unfamiliar with). Beeko is a product of the British educational system and culture, where speech patterns and accents are badges of social standing.

And, in fact, for the first three or four statements I find what I expected. Then, Beeko unexpectedly turns a corner, and tosses out the very informal term, "critter." From that point on, through the remainder of the conversation he bounces back and forth between the formal ("I'm not daft enough to guess..."  "A bit of a doubting Thomas, are we?" "The atmosphere is a manifestation of cumulative events or a series of historic concessions;") and the colloquial ("evangelism jazz"  "Lotsa places..." "Don't ya, man?")

As an editor, I would counsel Mike to either a) explain this schizophrenic language pattern in the narrative (is there a motivation for it somewhere in Beeko's past?) or b) revise the doctor's speech to something more fitting with his educational and professional status. Similarly, the book would benefit from more careful attention to the other character's dialogue tendencies, as well.

Ground-level issues:

Finally, some micro-level observations...points at which I felt the line-editor missed a beat. These are the type of thing I look for when reading, because I think that training your eye to look for these makes you a better writer...and especially a better re-writer.

p45..."Well, let's say I'm getting closer.    (missing punctuation, quotes not closed)

p64... shallow and erratic breathing...   (why? from other indications, Jack is in a deep sleep, so you would expect slow, easy respiration)

p83...It was a black Hummer, the wide older models, with...   (the Hummer is singular, "models" is plural...  so better would be:  It was a black Hummer, one of the wide older models,....)

p86... clear blue eyes and bright smile offset her aging features.   (better with: clear blue eyes and a bright smile...)

p89... he snapped some surgical gloves on each hand   ("some gloves" is plural, "hand" singular... better:  he snapped a surgical glove on each hand....)

p142... got to wippin' people up.      (Here, the phonetic spelling creates confusion...I think it means "whipping" people up....  but instead, it reads more like "wiping" people up.  Better: Whippin' )

p165... the cabinets consisted of flat rollout trays, each one baring a typed insert...   (unless the rollout trays are naked, they shouldn't be "baring" anything... they should be bearing labels)

p180/248....  on two occasions, characters say "Gentleman" (singular) when they mean "Gentlemen" (plural).

p208...  "What do mean, Ruby?"    (What do you mean, Ruby?)

p235... "Cool it! Both of you!"     (Why is Vin yelling, and glaring, at both Jack and Rev Clark? Clark is standing still, not saying anything. Jack is the only aggressor, here)

p246... Echoes. Mike & his editors did a nice job avoiding those annoying echoes... unusual words and phrases that, when they are used twice or more, catch the attention. But here one slipped by:   [tree] trunk thrust from the bowels of the earth....  (and then, two paragraphs later) a hawk burst from the bowels of the oak...     ("bowels" is a word that you can go a long time without hearing in casual conversation, and here we see the phrase "bowels of..." twice in three paragraphs.)

p270...his delicate, breezy voice seemed to jive perfectly with his graceful demeanor.  (Think the word we want here is jibe. To "jive" is to mislead, or pull someone's leg... to "jibe" is to be in agreement...to be in harmony.)

For years, I kept a notebook filled with observations like these...culled from a wide range of novels. It's invaluable practice at helping you build your revision skills...Something every writer should strive to improve.

Again, I hope you'll make room on your reading list for this one. I look forward to watching the progression of Mike's writing career.

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