After reading a post by my friend Miss Rosemary about first sentences in novels, I had to go back to my preface chapter (basically my first chapter) and read my first sentence. Well, once I started, I couldn’t really stop, and I had to read the whole chapter, which I haven’t visited in months. Any writer will tell you that time spent away from something you wrote always seems to shed more light on the weaknesses of what you wrote. And that’s what happened after I read my preface.
My weaknesses as a writer were glaringly obvious, and I couldn’t hide away from them as I usually do when I am focusing on just getting it all out. But eventually, inevitably, we all have to face our weaknesses, admit them to ourselves, and recognize them as potential points for improvement. It’s worse to be in denial, otherwise you can’t ever get any better. So, one of the biggest challenges for a writer is admitting those weaknesses. Here are mine:
- More drag, less action: I love details, but sometimes I can overdo it. There are points where the reader just wants the story to move along. They don’t need to know that the chair you mentioned was “ornate” or bought from italy or was in a diagonal to the bookcase, or had the light hitting it in a certain way–unless the whole story is about this chair, or in some other way this description is vital to the story. The truth is, if you look at great writers, you’d be surprised at how much they DON’T tell you. They are highly skilled at knowing what the reader needs to be told and leaving out what is nonessential, in order to move the story along fluidly. This I’m afraid, I am not good at yet. (I’ll be working on it.)
- Telling, not showing: I have this innate fear as a writer that my reader will completely misunderstand what I am saying and that they need to know the exact picture that I see in my head. I’ve spent hours drawing out every detail, so it’s vital to share it all so they can see what I see right? Hmm, wrong. The truth is, part of the skill of a writer is being able to know how much space to leave between my imagination and the reader’s imagination. I’m not a filmmaker, so I am required to leave a whole lot to the reader’s imagination. I am explicitly asked not to be the master of the pictures that my readers have in their head. I need to learn when to step back and let my readers get carried away, and when to step in and guide them, nudge them in a wonderful direction. More conductor and less army general. (Will work on this.)
- Stating the obvious: This is an extension of the last one of course. It’s still my paranoia with wondering whether the reader is “getting it.” It’s kind of like I’m constantly asking the reader: “get it? they’re in a park! I described the trees, and the people, and now I’m mentioning the street signs and how the guy has to sit on a ‘bench,’ and not a ‘chair’ and he’s facing her right now, but now he’s not. Get it? Get it? Get it?” Yes, they got it. They don’t need to be reminded, and they don’t need to be treated like a baby or a blind man. (In the future, I’m going to try to cut it down so that only the essential one or two sentences are there to set the scene, and leave it at that.)
- Trying to be Shakespeare in every line: There are some sentences that do not need to be poetic, or even pretty. It’s like a house. There are parts of a house that are there to make it look pretty: the furniture, the paint, the picture frames, the lamps… But there are some things that are essential to a house that are purely for technical reasons. A house needs plumbing for example. No one demands that their plumbing be beautiful, they just want it to work and do its job. A house is like a book, a book like a house. Yes, there are elements of design and presentation, but there are words and phrases that should be there for technical reasons. After I re-read my preface, I realized that my book needs more plumbing. I’ve spent too much time on picking out the furniture and now the house just looks stuffy and what’s worse: the shower head doesn’t work. (I’m learning that poetry is wonderful, but in the end everything should be there to serve the story!)
- Lack of a consistent narrative voice: My narrative voice sucks right now. Every chapter sounds different. I think writer’s might understand what I am talking about. But if you are a non-writer basically it means that it’s like I have three different people telling the beginning, middle and end of a story–but each of them has a different accent. So the narration is all awkward and bumpy. Part of the reason why this is, is that I haven’t made a concrete decisions about the audience for my book. I was open to the fact that this might be a fantasy story that was geared only to adults, but now it appears it wants to go the opposite direction. Right now I’m trying to accommodate both types of readers, young and old, but I haven’t struck the right balance, so the writing reflects that. It’s too serious at some points, and way too “childhood silly” at others. (Room for improvement: make a final decision about my target reader, make changes as necessary.)
So there you have it. This is the hard truth of where I need to improve. But before I end, it’s always good to do one more thing. I have another list. One that is far more challenging for me to make:
- Character: I can establish 3D dimensional characters who the reader either identifies with or feel like they “know someone like that.” Characters that the reader is ready to root for and is interested in following as they make their journey.
- Originality: I’m good at writing a story from a point of view that is new and original. Telling a plot that avoids clichés and the usual, expected turns in the story.
- Wonder: I’ve got a great imagination and can establish a sense of awe and wonder as I introduce new characters and concepts to the reader. The wonder keeps the reader interested and wanting more.
- Freshness: I great at avoiding commonly used phrasing and words, and can create sentences that sound new but can still be understood by readers. I write stories that are rich and full and don’t use the usual tired gimmicks to draw readers in.
- Thoughtful: I can write scenes and stories that are not just for entertainment but hopefully lead the reader to think, be inspired, and feel validated.
I’ve learned that too much modesty with ourselves can be hurtful. We end up knocking ourselves down too much in an attempt to be humble and avoid being “full of ourselves.” But too much modesty and we end up at the other end of the spectrum: feeling like we are the most wretched writer on earth. When that isn’t true. So, you have my permission to do what I did and give yourself credit for what you are good at.
As long as you can admit your imperfections, I think it’s not a bad thing to pat yourself on the back for things you have gotten better at over the years–especially if you have worked very hard to get better at them.
To follow the Courage 2 Create and find out what happens to Ollin and his novel, you can subscribe by inserting your e-mail into the subscription box in the top right corner of the sidebar! Subscription is completely free! Thank you for subscribing!