Monday, November 24, 2008

Literary Liposuction: Part One

This past Saturday I did a workshop at my chapter called Literary Liposuction: How to write tight and say more with less. Since Hotrod and I are traveling for the holidays, I thought I'd share that info in a series of posts, starting with today! During the holidays, we could all use a little lipo, don't you think? If something doesn't make sense, ask questions. Agree or disagree? Tell me. Mostly these are the things I look for when editing, not necessarily something I force myself to do when writing the first draft.

Part One is an overview of Point of View and my favorite, Deep POV:

Think of POV like looking through a camera. Only what’s visible to your character can appear on the page. That means he or she can’t know what the person next to them is thinking although they can assume it based on body language, facial expression or tone of voice.

“You’re wrong, Jane.” Bob clenched his fists. When would she understand? “It’s not over.”

Jane sighed. This guy was really getting on her nerves. “It was over the day we got divorced.”

Okay – who’s head are you in? Both! That shouldn’t happen. Pick one head per scene unless your initials are NR and then your publisher doesn’t care what you do. A better way to do this scene would be like this…

“You’re wrong, Jane.” Bob clenched his fists. When would she understand? “It’s not over.”

Jane sighed and looked away, obviously tired of the discussion. “It was over the day we got divorced.”

See that “obviously tired of the discussion” line? That’s Bob’s guess as to how Jane is feeling based on her sighing and looking away. It works and it keeps us in his head.


I love Deep POV. I strive for it in everything I write. Is it right for everything? No, but when it’s properly utilized it will help you write tighter. What is it? Deep POV is showing the scene through the character’s eyes, not watching it as it happens to the characters Let me show you what I mean.

Shallow POV: Jane watched Bob carry the groceries into the house, listening to his grunting and mumbling with a wry smile on her face.

Deep POV: She shook her head. Bob might be carrying the groceries in, but his muttering said it all. His unhappiness gave her a perverse tingle that went all the way to her grin.

Can you see the difference? The first snippet is like you’re watching Jane in this scene. In the second snippet, you are Jane.

*Filtering or distancing words will take your writing out of Deep POV, words like watched, heard, noticed, saw, felt, thought, decided, etc. What other distancing words can you think of? Do a search for them in your work and see how many you find. How can you rewrite the sentence to take them out?

*Having your characters refer to themselves by name over and over diminishes Deep POV. Do you refer to yourself by name when you’re thinking?

*Lastly, make each character’s descriptions distinct to their personality. Would a military man describe something as a gentle shade of mauve or pink? Would a female kindergarten teacher see a weapon as a Smith and Wesson 9 mil or a gun? Sure, there are exceptions in every case, but make the descriptions ring true. If those characters above answer with the first option, there better be a reason why.

Next up...Adverbs and Prepositional Phrases!


  1. Thanks so much for this workshop. I love the first part. You've already been a big help and given me food for though during this holiday week. I'll be traveling too but I'll surely check back when I can.

  2. OOoh, this is good. I need to to search for my filtering words today.

  3. What a wonderful job you did too:o) The pages I brought were edited down quite a bit using the handout, but I'm proud to say I had NO adverbs to delete! Yay! It was a great meeting.

  4. Excellent advice, Kristen. Can't wait for the next installment. I have an adverb addiction. ;o)

  5. Awesome stuff, and I love the examples. Makes it so easy to understand! *now, to do it.

    Do you have any opinion on the HelaDoc programs? Or do you just use the search feature in Word?

  6. Oooh yeah this is good stuff Kristen. Nice to have that reminder. You get kind of lost when you're writing (at least I do) and I don't see all the "bad" stuff. LOL Can't wait to read more!