Surviving Tricks for the Poor Writer

58th Trial: Learning to structure your writing after you’ve written a novel is a disarming thought. It is the equivalent (use your imagination) of going into battle with only a straight sword, surviving it, and then being told you need to learn how to thrust from the torso before you’re allowed to pick up the sword again. Or that “you are lucky to be alive with the technique you had, but this is how warriors do it.” Needless to say, I have read my novel 4 times by now, and am half way done before it could ever be presentable. Who knew there were so many tricks for the poor writer?

Weekly Hours Spent Writing or in the Pursuit of Plot: 18hr/wk.  Happily work has been picking up, and yet my time for writing is still cherished.

Weekly Choice of Tea: Throat Coat; there is something about it that warms the lining of my entire body.

Biggest Success: Completion of my second draft;  posting chapter one in an online writing forum;  finishing Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’;  and perfecting the pop up technique while surfing. 

 

Having completed my second draft, I have read through ‘Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer’ in an attempt to breath life into a third draft. At first, the instructions from ‘Self-Editing’ seemed basic, and I put it down frequently, confident that I may not need to finish it. That I already had the basics (duh, I wrote a novel), and that my writing needed only the tweaks in its dialogue and its descriptive narrative that would make it chime to the sound of a hundred, sweet and delicate bells.

And yet, I noticed something. Certain do-nots that ‘Self-Editing’ illustrated began to look more and more familiar, and before long, I realized I had made the mistakes of a hot-pressed amateur. I quickly picked up my novel and on page one, I was horrified to see “-ly” adverbs. Page three offended me with verbs that substituted “said” when a character spoke. I had tried to set myself apart, to be unique, to display my voice as a writer — that I made unrealistic and insensible violations to the written word.

Not even in technique, but I began to get feedback that my main character showed less and my words told more. That the beautiful descriptive paragraphs were tossed in there without thought – its meaning not expanded upon. That when you need to explain the shock your characters feel during dialogue, your dialogue is lacking. That poetic and flowery figures of speech steal the stage of your characters. That cliches show weakness, and obscenities a small vocabulary. Repetitions must only be done intentionally, or else you are tripping over your shoe laces.

The third draft will begin soon, as I begin to read Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, and after I’ve had a chance to recover from the ‘Self-Editing’ beating.

Take-aways from ‘Self-Editing for the Fiction Writer’:

  1. Your only job is to engage your reader. (sounds pretty simple, right?)
  2. Show VS Tell:  characterization happens through actions and dialogue. Feelings should be observed rather than told.
  3. Proportion:  make descriptive detail proportionate to the character’s interest in it. Character’s development should be proportionate to their role in the story. Setting detail should mirror the tone of the novel.
  4. Dialogue:  Well written dialogue doesn’t need an explanation. Verbs cannot replace “said.” You cannot chuckle a sentence. “-ly” adverbs show only your lack of confidence in diaglogue.
  5. R.U.E.  Resist the Urge to Explain
  6. Make sure your dialogue reads natural as you read it aloud. No trick spellings that would require a reader to translate rather than be affected by.
  7. Beats:  are actions interspaced in a scene. They should illuminate your character, and match the rhythm of the dialogue. Do not show every movement a character makes – it will be irritating disruptions to the scene.
  8. Interior Monologue:  Do no use dialect for dialogue. Make it match narrative distance. These should be limited to important emotions – the entire novel is not a constant character epiphany. Determine if her state of mind is worth capturing. Certain monologues can be changed into scenes.
  9. Do not use italics. So unnecessary.
  10. Scene length:  dialogue and paragraph breaks help create white space.
  11. Repetitions:  1+1 = 1/2;  they should be intentional. If repetitions exist between words/thoughts/emotions, flush it out by understanding what it is trying to accomplish in a paragraph’s mood, objective, and characterization.
  12.  Use “!” sparingly.
  13. Profanity and Obscenity:  shows small vocabulary and in no way should intimate scenes have anatomical details.
  14. As an author, encourage your voice but do not actively work on it. Notice your flat sentences verses those that sing to you. It will eventually work itself into existence.

The Goldilocks of Dialogue

20th Trial: How much dialogue is too much? It is often that we say little more than we should and/or spew a great deal extra than should be allowed.

Weekly hours spent writing or in the pursuit of plot: 2.5 hours

Weekly choice of tea: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai (pumpkin has come to Trader Joe’s!)

Greatest Success: At the White Water Center, I kicked away my fear of heights and accomplished the ropes courses and went rafting!!! It is a place in Charlotte where the USA team trains for the Olympics, and is open to the public. So a whole day was dedicated to outdoor adventures! Just a couple fun tid bits from this weekend:

There are so many times that while writing an interaction between two characters that I sit back and wonder, how on earth is this dialogue going to end? Do I continue down a casual road, such as person sits, stands, talks, pours tea–or just get straight to the point? There is such a talent that I am realizing with long dialogue. A whole paragraph of uninterrupted speech in which unrevealing occurs, but does not show absolutely everything, is a beast within itself! I admire the cool mysterious dialogue of Raymond Chandler, who wrote The Big Sleep, where after every word spoken the reader feels as if they are standing at the edge of a cliff, in absolute suspense of what it could mean and what it will result in. And on the other hand, the whimsical entertaining discussion of tapestries and who-wore-what-lace in Austen’s repartee has its own significant effects. In both circumstances, the dialogue is not too much or too less. I am Goldie Locks, tasting for what will be just right when it comes to the feel of my novel. And if anyone has ever read Goldilocks, you will hear the dialogue debate within my mind. This sentence is too short! This subject is not right for discussion! This soup is too hot!

On a short, different note, I am influenced more than I realized by what I am writing. I admit that I am a leech, taking in my surroundings and relying on the people I meet to propel my story forward. My imagination to this point has had to work very little. However, one scene I wrote that was not from my neighborhood–you could call it the “meet-cute”–was with my character hearing piano music from a neighboring household. The gorgeous melody will then naturally begin the strings of romance! Now you can understand my astonishment when I was leaving my apartment to take my dog on a walk, when I heard from another door the beautiful sound of a piano! I stopped, stunned by the situation. How brilliant! Not only do I take from my surroundings, but now my story seems to take form around me! And the music was indeed beautiful, just as I imagined in would be. I am happy to say that my story does not leave me, and reveals itself in senses and physical manifestations, as much as I will perceive it to.