Looking Back and Going Forward

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Looking back over your last year of writing, have you made adjustments or have you kept doing whatever it was that you were doing on January 1?

My guess is you’ve made changes along the way, learned things, broke some bad habits, and put into practice new techniques.

You are looking at the craft of writing in a much different way than you did a year ago. 

The overall goal of writing is improvement. So is the goal of revising our manuscript once the draft is complete. 

I view revising as dissecting—just like we did in science class in high school.

It’s taking my story apart and looking at/improving each individual section, and then putting it all back together again.

It may have been impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but not so with your writing. It can be changed, reworked, rewritten, reordered until it looks much different than it did in draft form.

I begin by either selecting my known weaknesses to work on or, just what I deem important.  I go through the entire book (focusing on one at a time) looking for those things and “fixing” them. In my first book, for instance, I noticed that each chapter began with the main character’s name. So, I rewrote each beginning paragraph.

You’ll need to determine for yourself just what things are necessary. Here is the list of what I go through:

Repetitious words, past tense verbs, emotions, descriptions, flow.

I check each character’s description against my master list. If Sally has green eyes in chapter one, they’d better be the same color in chapter fourteen.

Quotation marks, italics, indentations, misspellings, etc.

Last lines of each scene (I make sure they entice the reader to keep turning the page).

Timeline/order (I once read a book where the girl’s cat died in chapter 14. Then, in chapter 15, the cat was very much alive and purring on her lap!) You don’t want huge mistakes like this to spoil your story.

Seasons/holidays (If these are mentioned in the book, they need to be in sequence) Ages (pay attention to age progression throughout).

As you can see, the list is long. I add to it for each new story, it seems.

No book will be perfect, but look especially for the mistakes you know that you tend to make over and over again. Keep polishing until your story gleams!

Next week, editing. 

 

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Follow the Pattern of a Skirt

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I remember writing assignments in our ninth grade English class. One of the inevitable questions that would be asked was, “How long should it be?”

Mr. Dee would always answer: “Like a skirt: Long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.”

That’s still good advice.

Our books, articles, stories—whatever we are writing—shouldn’t feel “padded” with information or scenes that don’t contribute to the overall project.

If characters are introduced by name and are given space in our writing (in other words, if they are elaborated upon by giving them a name and background and some sort of importance in the story) then they should lend to the total story. Otherwise, just say that the waiter brought the food. Period. Don’t give him more than a brief one or two word description.

Granted, there should be a certain amount of description of our characters. They should also share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. And, of course, they need to interact and DO SOMETHING. Hence, the plot unfolds with ACTION.

But, if a character doesn’t move the plot forward–doesn’t have a purpose in the overall story–they shouldn’t be given much, if any, line space.

However, it is not just superfluous characters that unnecessarily pad a story. One thing that is often overused is description (think weather, appearance, terrain, nature, and so on). As a matter of preference, some readers enjoy books with long, flowing descriptions that can take up pages, while others prefer more dialog, or action.

I recently read a book that had four consecutive pages devoted to description of the clouds–and this was NOT a book about clouds, the weather, or anything close to it. But, some people enjoy knowing every minute detail and others are content with reading “a dark storm cloud” and letting it go at that.

So, the point is, give us examples, take us on a journey, fill our hearts with joy–or suspense– but keep the story moving.

Don’t pad it with things we will want to skip over. Don’t give us hundreds of pages of nothingness in order to make the spine thick enough to showcase our names or a certain number of pages so the reader will think they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

Remember Mr. Dee’s advice and make your story long enough to cover the subject; short enough to be interesting.