Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Guest Post: Kelly Bennett on That Last Revision: Ruthless Bites

By Kelly Bennett
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I never—even in my most vivid nightmares—imagined I’d write anything “vampire,” let alone a picture book!

Truth is, if anyone is to blame for it, it’s you, Cynthia. You inspired me to try it.

Which makes it especially grand to be celebrating my new picture book, Vampire Baby, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick, 2013), with you!

When you think about it, writing is a vampirical pursuit. Ask a certain brilliant, sweet-faced author’s advice on how to improve your writing she might well suggest—in dulcet tones, of course—that you “open a vein,” “bleed on the page,” “kill your darlings.”

So, in keeping with the whole bloody business, I’m seizing this opportunity to share a painful but effective final revision suggestion: After you hit SAVE, but before you push SEND, take Ruthless Bites!

That’s the advice the late Tony Hillerman, author of 29 books, including the award-winning Shape Shifter series featuring Navajo Tribal police Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, gave me at an OWFI conference about 15 years ago. He credited taking Ruthless Bites with elevating him from mid-list author (“B List” he called it) to best-selling author.

What’s a Ruthless Bite?
  • Cut one word from each sentence.
  • Cut one sentence from each paragraph.
  • Cut one paragraph from each page.

If you think it will be tough to bite into your 50,000 word novel manuscript this way, imagine applying Hillerman’s “Ruthless Bites” polishing method to a 700 word picture book manuscript!

In Vampire Baby, Ruthless Bites changed this:

Mom laughed at my Vampire Identification List.

Proof that Tootie really is a Vampire Baby!

Sharp fangs

Loves to bite (Note teeth marks)

Vampire Hair

Loves to chew

Favorite color is red (Think BLOOD)

Nocturnal (sleeps during the day and is awake at night)

Best Vampire Protection – Garlic!!! Vampires hate Garlic!
To this:

That’s correct, I deleted the “Identification List.” Upon review of the story, I realized I didn’t need it as every item listed was used elsewhere in the text.

Ruthless Bites changed this:

“YOUCH OUCH, TOOTIE. LET GO TOOTIE please, pretty please... No Bite!”

To this:

Deleting a word here, a sentence there, resulted in a snappy, repeatable refrain.

Aside from killing a few darling, and stinging at first, what will this bloodletting do?
  • Tighten your writing. 
  • Hone your word choice. 
  • Speed up the pace.

Go ahead, try it: Pull out your polished manuscripts, curl back your lips and take Ruthless Bites.

I dare you!


Kelly Bennett said...

Guesting on your blog is like coming home, Cyn! VAMPIRE BABY is here because of you--thank you for the inspiration and for tossing down the gauntlet!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Kelly, I am so wowed and proud of you. Thank you for sharing your process and cheers to VAMPIRE BABY!

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