Embarrassed as I am to have been writing earnestly for the past three years and only now discovering a wonderful editing tool, I’m delighted at the same time. I’ve been fortunate to join a specialist writing group: five would-be novelists working in the science fiction genre, who have begun to share their work together. As the sharing and friendly, supportive critiques have begun, I’ve realised that the comment function in the universally-used Word software is really easy to use.
I devoured a similar use of the facility when I received a professional critique of my historical fiction novel, littered with comment boxes, but I hadn’t digested how to use the tool myself, until yesterday. Yesterday it was my turn to deliver a critique, so I had to find out how. Highlight the offending text, click the Comment button, write notes in the magically opened Comment box, finish. Voilà! The Comment appears when you hover the cursor. When I saw how to use this facility, I was away, strewing my own comments through a colleague’s prose.
But that wasn’t the lesson I was especially joyful about, not exactly, though it was a brilliant reveal. No, the real lesson came about as I worked through the text, and as I began to lay down examples of how I thought the writing could be improved. I realised that every admonition I made could be directed to my own writing, and also that there was one positive way in particular that I could make my own fiction sing.
I learned how to work my way into similes. The problem is the lazy use of adverbs. You know: angrily; casually; normally; awkwardly. Those pesky things that describe actions, those almost adjectives that make prose woolly, boring and unimaginative. If I spend just a little more time thinking of a simile that characterises the action, rather than just throwing down an adverb, I might just come up with an apposite phrase that really resonates.
I tried it, several times, in my newly-discovered comments boxes, and I must say I was delighted with the result. The characterisation moved on in strength, the writing still flowed, the reader I hope might be more intrigued, and it was much more fun to compose. For an example, drawn out of the air, rather than a character moving awkwardly to embrace their loved one, they could move with the awkward intention of a heron trying to get airborne. Immediately that consternation of flapping, the hope for liftoff and resolution, are there. Applied judiciously, these similes (which I believe don’t necessarily have to be ‘like/as’ constructions) can be little miracles of communication.
Often, in my experience, it takes me such a long time to learn a simple lesson. I might have seen how amazing such constructs can be when a novelist tutor recommended Rupert Thompson’s very odd book ‘Divided Kingdom’ which is filled with zinging, descriptive phrases. Or perhaps that gasp of admiration needed some years of reflection before I could be receptive to the lesson of how to place such writing fillips.
However the provenance, my little lesson for my writing self was as simple as learning how and when to drop in those very useful similes, overt and sometimes covert, but always a small pleasure when they fit.