Editing 101: Search and Destroy Mission; FELT

A recent facebook discussion on the use of the word “felt” brought about an idea to demonstrate how I go about editing my own work.  The book “Dead Reckoning” from the Sookie Stackhouse book series created the discussion, so I am using a page from it to show what I’m talking about.  In general, “felt” is telling.  It deprives the reader of sharing the experience.  Also, I’m adding some photos from the HBO television series, “True Blood,” based on the books.
 
Book selection:  “Dead Reckoning,” by Charlaine Harris, 2011.  Page 107.
I highlighted the words “feel” and “felt, and the word “that.”  Passives also abound, as highlighted in blue, but I am going to cover passives in my next blog, so I highlighted them as a matter of practice.  I also highlight –ly words, and “just,” but again, I’ll save those for future editing exercises. 
Here’s the page:
She might have judged herself, but now that I’d gotten over the shock of seeing my grandmother as a woman, I didn’t judge her.  Who was I to throw stones?  The preacher had told me that all sins were equal in the eyes of God, but I couldn’t help but feel (for example) that a child molester was worse than a person who cheated on his income tax, or a lonely woman who’d had unsanctioned sex because she wanted a baby.  I was probably wrong, because we also weren’t supposed to pick and choose which rules we obeyed, but that was the way I felt.

I shoved my confused thoughts back into a corner of my head and picked up the cluviel dor again.  Touching its smoothness was pure pleasure, like the happiness I’d felt when I’d hugged my great-grandfather—but times about two hundred.  The cluviel dor was about the size of two stacked Oreo cookies.  I rubbed it against my cheek and felt like purring. 

Did you have to have a magic word to open it?

“Abracadabra,” I said.  “Please and thank you.”

Nope, didn’t work, plus I felt like an idiot.  “Open Sesame,” I whispered.  “Presto change-o.”  Nope.

But thinking of magic gave me an idea.  I e-mailed Amelia, and it was a difficult message to phrase.  I know e-mail isn’t totally secure, but I also had no reason to think anyone considered my few messages of any importance.  I wrote, “I hate to ask, but besides doing that research on the blood bond for me, can you find out about a fae thing? Initials c. d.?” That was as subtle as I could get. 
Then I returned to my admiration of the cluviel dor.  Did you have to be a pure fairy to open it? No that couldn’t be the case.  It had been a gift to my grandmother, presumably to use in case of dire need, and she had been completely human.

I wished it hadn’t been far away in the attic when she’d been attacked.  Whenever I remembered how she’d been discarded on the kitchen floor like offal, soaking in her own blood, I felt both sick and furious.  Maybe if she’d had time to fetch the cluviel dor, she could have saved herself.


Now, here’s how I would reword it:
Perhaps my grandmother judged herself, but after the shock of seeing her as a woman subsided, I didn’t.   Who was I to throw stones?  The preacher said all sins were equal in the eyes of God, but in my opinion, a child molester ranked worse than someone who cheated on their income tax, or a lonely woman who engaged in unsanctioned sex because she wanted a baby.  Wrong?  Maybe, since he also said not to pick or chose which rules to obey.

I shoved my confused thoughts into a corner of my mind and picked up the cluviel dor.  My fingers ran over the smooth object, about the size of two stacked Oreos.  Cats purr when stroked, and as I rubbed it against my cheek, I understood why.  Happiness flooded through me, reminding me of hugging my great-grandfather, only magnified a couple hundred times. 

Maybe magic words opened it?

“Abracadabra?”  I held my breath a moment, then continued, “Please and thank you.”

Nope, didn’t work.  Not to mention, horribly cliché.  I paused.  Oh well, why not?  “Open sesame?”  I rolled the cluviel dor in my hands.  “Presto change-o?” 

Nope.

But, thinking of magic gave me an idea.  So, I e-mailed Amelia.  It took some time to come up with the phrasing.  Even though I doubted anyone considered my messages important, e-mail isn’t exactly secure.  “I hate to ask, but while you’re researching the blood bond for me, could you find out about a fae thing with the initials c.d?”  Subtle, right?

I hit send, then returned to admire the cluviel dor.  Maybe only a pure fairy could open it?  No, Fintan gifted it to my completely human grandmother, presumably to use in case of dire need.

I remembered my grandmother’s body, left discarded on the kitchen floor like offal, soaking in her own blood.  Bile rose in my throat and my nails bit into my palms.  Maybe if she had the cluviel dor with her, she could have saved herself.


Notice NO felts, thats, and look at the reduction in passives.  This goes to show, I’m not saying ALL passives are bad.  Now, I hope you’ll add your thoughts or edits.  Plus, I hope you enjoyed the eye-candy!

4 thoughts on “Editing 101: Search and Destroy Mission; FELT

  1. What do the photographs have to do with your subject? Saying that they are “eye candy” doesn’t make them any more applicable to your topic.

    Your blog is otherwise right on the money.

  2. The photographs are from the TV series “True Blood,” which is based on the Sookie Stackhouse book series, of which the book, “Dead Reckoning” is a part.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  3. My drafts more often than not read like the Stackhouse excerpt. Much of my first pass editing involves reducing “to be” verbs (is, was, etc.), taking out hypothetical verbs (should, would, etc.), and axing variations of “feel”. Once I take care of those issues, the manuscript tends to come together.

    Nothing wrong with eye candy, although the pictures you posted weren’t my cup of tea. 😉

    DAB

  4. Sorry about the double post.

    I’m currently reading a number of books that overuse not only “felt”, but also heard, saw, noticed, touched, realized, etc. These kind of words often produce flat, boring sentences. “Character *sensory verb* something.”

    e.g. She heard the floorboards creak behind her, and saw the dinner plates shake in the cupboard. She noticed she was too late, and touched the gun at her hip. She realized nobody was safe.

    When you have a limited point of view narration, it’s no problem to eliminate the “telling” sensory verbs, and replace them with “showing” what the character is sensing, in the same way Lisa replaced the verb feel in her example. So:

    The floorboards behind her creaked with the heavy thump of each fast approaching footstep, shaking the dinner plates in the cupboard. Too late! Too late… She stroked the revolver at her hip, her sweaty palm cool against the smooth ivory handle. Death came for them all.

    Not a great example, but I hope I clarified that not only “feel” can be eliminated from drafts, but also many sensory verbs.

    DAB

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *