Sunday, October 25, 2009

Don't Put A Hat On A Hat

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I did get a bit of writing done last week, but mostly I got caught up with my children and other responsibilities.

It was a good thing.

Today I will start sharing my report from the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention that I attended in Indianapolis. There were over 2,000 attendees -- all writers, fans and publishers of mystery/thriller novels. What fun!

One of the helpful things I heard was:

Don't put a hat on a hat



what? you say...



Well, don't overwrite. Especially when it comes to humor.

When you know you've struck that beautiful punchline moment, STOP.

Don't go on to explain why it is funny

And, don't -- please don't -- repeat the joke/situation or another similar joke/situation too close to the first.

Just let it be -

beautifully written

fresh and surprising to the reader

left alone

Don't ruin it by putting a hat on the hat.

Questions: Do you ever overwrite? I do! Sometimes I am so excited at what I think is the cleverness of my writing, I don't know when to stop. Overkill. How are you able to be objective and see this in your writing? How do you avoid it? And, do you like mysteries/thrillers? Read any good ones lately? What is it about them that you like?
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31 comments:

Suzyhayze said...

oooh ooohh!!!! Me! I do that! Tension killer for sure.

I have a habit of repeating myself with small sentences to clarify what I just said. To clarify.

:)

Danyelle said...

I tend to overwrite when the words are rushing out of me like turbulent rapids. I usually need a space of time away from it to catch the overwriting and fix it. I've found that when I write as the Character, as opposed to as the Author, I do less overwriting.

I like mysteries better than thrillers, but my real love is YA and MG. :D

L.T. Elliot said...

Critique groups are great for catching extra hats. (And arms, in my case.)

PJ Hoover said...

I do overwrite and overdo jokes. I think if it is funny once it will be funny again and again. Not so, and I must stop! Great advice, and what a fun conference!

paulgreci said...

Overwriting is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in an early draft. Letting your characters run with their thoughts. It's often the third or fourth way I try to say something that really clicks.

The trick is being able to edit out the repetition and keep only the best writing and build from there.

Even in later drafts I sometimes I let my mc run with his thoughts and the gems often come at the end of the run and I throw out the rest. Elizabeth Lyons called this rif-writing. Kind of like a musician playing a solo.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Um. Yes. I probably have put a hat on a hat on a hat. I think that means not trusting myself to have made the point. Something to think about. Thanks, Tess!

Susan R. Mills said...

Guilty. I admit it. I overwrite. I only catch it during revisions, and even then, I miss it sometimes. Thank God for crit partners!

Yunaleska said...

I overwrite sometimes. Hasn't been a while, thankfully.

I love the action in a thriller, all the page turners and the fast pace. Love other genres too!

Corey Schwartz said...

oh, love that advice!

Linda Kage said...

I've definitley been guilty of overkill. Sigh. I blame my fingers, they just won't stop typing!

But I haven't read a whole lot of mystery lately. I've been into historicals. But I do love a good whodunit.

Tamika: said...

I get caught up in my own cleverness too much! Once I find the rhytmn I want to itensify things that don't seem natural.

Looking forward to hearing more about the conference!

Happy writing...

storyqueen said...

I love mysteries that surprise me. and I also love/hate it when the character is doing something that I know they shouldn't do and I can't stop reading because I have to see the character get OUT of the threatening situation.

Shelley

Tess said...

Suzanne: check you out with your cute new photo!
and, thanks for the giggle. to giggle.

Danyelle: me too *sigh*. And, what about MG and YA mysteries and thrillers??

LT: yes, thank heaven for good crit partners.

PJ: exactly what I do. I think, 'wow, that was funny' and then say, ' let's do it again'. :D

Paulgreci: hi! thanks for commenting - and I love a good discussion. You make some great points and I agree we must allow our muse to flow on that first draft. I just find myself feeling so clever or surprised by my humor in a passage that I push and push and push. Too much.

Tricia: yes, trusting yourself but also trusting our readers to be smart and get it the first time around :)

Susan: yes, a good crit partner can be so helpful in this process.

Yunaleska: hello :D. I go in spurts with my overwriting, depending on the characters I'm working with. Howz the weather over the pond?

Corey: It struck a chord w/ me as well.

Linda: those dang fingers!

Tamika: exactly!

Shelley: I love them as well, but am finding they are more difficult to write (well) than I anticipated! oh well, I'm learning and pushing through...

Cindy said...

That's a good bit of advice. I've definitely done that in the past. Not necessarily with humor, but when I've found a good flow of words and I think the prose is oh, so lovely and then I totally get carried away. It can be a challenge to find a balance but it's fun to work with what we have and make it even better.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

I do with this with setting sometimes. The remedy: be willing to cut, cut, cut.

Let it be...how Beatles-esque.
~ Wendy

ElanaJ said...

Oh, yeah. I overwrite. I think we feel like we have to stop and say "Laugh here! This is funny!" Or "do you get this? It's important! Remember on page 52???"

In my crit group, we joke about how they (whoever this elusive "they" is) should publish books with pop-up bubbles. You know, like those music videos. We could put in Author Comments. "Remember when she said this on page 97? I was setting you up." Or "I went back and added this on the fifth draft." Or "Ooh, I got chills writing this. Do you like it??"

LOL!

B.J. Anderson said...

Yes, I majorly overwrite! But then I go through with my editor's cap on and bleed on the overwrites. :D I kind of like doing that. Sometimes I wonder if I overwrite just so I can edit it out later.

Davin Malasarn said...

Thanks for writing about this, Tess. I was waiting for an explanation, and I had to wait a whole week! Your kids better be grateful.

Overwriting is one of the things I've never been accused of. I tend to underwrite everything. Some people say my writing is more of an outline. And, it doesn't help that I have a poet friend who cuts my work down even more. So, are there tips for the opposite problem?

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

But I'm so clever, sometimes it's hard to stop. (kidding.) But I do love hats, so I will be careful not to wear too many at one time.

Robyn Campbell said...

Tess, you unplugged? Did you like it? I have gotten to where I love unplug week. I recharge and with all I have going on it really helps me.

Me overwrite? PSHAW! :) Heck, my middle name is overwrite. But the good thing is when I'm reading it, I know I have overwritten. Use to be I didn't see it. So I HAVE improved. *fist pump*

Solvang Sherrie said...

Ha! That's a good one to remember. Humor is hard for me. Sarcasm I can do, but just plain funny I struggle with. That's probably where the overwriting enters in...

Jill Kemerer said...

Aha! Nice! I have been known to beat a thought to death, so I'll keep this in mind. And yeah, I like mysteries, especially romantic suspense. :)

MG Higgins said...

Yes, I'm constantly having to pull myself back and delete those summaries that I think are so absolutely necessary. And as always, it's much easier for me to see this problem in others than in my own writing. Good reminder.

Lisa and Laura said...

Ooh, this is good advice! Can't wait to read the rest of your notes. We've missed you out here in the blogosphere! Glad to have you back!

Tess said...

I am so glad I am not alone in this. I was laughing at myself because I always think "that is so funny. Do you think the reader got it? Maybe I should explain...."

ugh.

thanks for coming over and commenting, guys. It's nice to be back amongst friends :)

Crystal said...

Chiming in here late, Tess. Yes, that is such GREAT advice! And yes, I think I do tend to overwrite. But I also agree that it's not such a bad thing because I'm then able to go back and edit out all the stuff I really don't need. And sometimes, the stuff that was weeded out I'm able to use in a different area of my manuscript.

Nice to have you back, Tess, and I look forward to hearing more about what you learned at the conference. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Glad you had a good week off and got lots done! And I love the saying! Will be an easy way to remember not to overkill a good thing!

Sharon Mayhew said...

I'm glad you had a good time at the conference. I gave you a blog award. If you'd like to pick it up, it's at my blog. Have a good week.

lotusgirl said...

yeah. that's totally the aftershave bit in Home Alone. First time. Hilarious. 2nd time. Sort of cute. 3rd time. Ugh!

I tend to want to explain, but I'm learning to resist. People are smart. We have to let them get it or not. Better for a few not to get it than to offend all those who do get it by explaining it to them.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I do tend to take most things just one step too far in writing--beating the dead horse, I guess. I have to remember that the readers are smart enough to get the idea for themselves.

Amy Saia said...

I think I overedit, and then I think I underedit. And most of all, I think I think too much.