THIS week I attacked the weeds in my flower garden. The word "weed" conjures in most American minds the image of dandelions (or marijuana, depending on your perspective). Like Miss Maggie in my novels, I don't mind dandelions, or the white blossoms of clover, or purple of ground ivy in my lawn. Adds interest to the relentless green of grass (much of my grass is off the crab variety, but it is green).
The worst of my weed archenemies are
-- morning glories - sure, they look pretty, but they cover the shrubs like kudzu, until every leaf below their canopies withers and dies for lack of sunlight,
-- deadly nightshade - while an appropriate vine for a mystery writer's garden, like the morning glories, it gets out of hand quickly. I'd also rather not tempt the neighborhood kids to taste the pretty red berries,
-- ragweed - the most vile and evil of my weeds. It lurks below ground, waiting until your back is turned, then sends up shoots that hide beneath, well, morning glories. Their pollen makes me miserable from August through late November each year, so even if I let the morning glories and nightshade grow, the ragweed must
be evicted, the sooner, the better.
This past week I also worked on rewriting an old manuscript. Weeding and rewriting are similar processes--the pulling out of the bad, ugly, and harmful to keep the flowers alive. Yet many of my writing students have no patience with rewriting. They think they're done right after planting.
What weeds can be found in a manuscript? The first choice of many people would be "adverbs." I liken adverbs to dandelions. Sure, they can be annoying, they can be rampant, but they aren't going to kill a piece of writing unless you let them take over. A reasonable amount of adverbs can even lend interest to your prose.
Poorly drawn characters are the morning glories of a story--characters who are, at best, unlikeable, and at worst, uninteresting. A reader who doesn't care what happens to the protagonist will put the book down. Bad characters can overshadow and kill an otherwise great work of fiction.
The ragweed of writing, in my opinion, is boring prose. Very rarely will you find one small, lackluster patch of narration in a book. Drab prose, allowed to take root, will often infest every page. Lots of writers will banish snooze-inducing paragraphs from their first chapters, yet don't weed as meticulously as the book continues.
I can't simply sell my house and leave every time the ragweed in my garden give me fits of sneezing. Readers (and editors) will walk away from a manuscript infested with weeds. Rewriting is necessary not only to the aesthetic beauty of the final product, but to its health and longevity as well.