Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
This is my final week reviewing Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I feel I've scratched only the surface of this wonderful book so, if you want to read and learn more, please think about buying a copy.
The chapter on Voice begins with a comparison between the voice of the narrator in Melville's Omoo and Moby Dick. There are also examples from The Lovely Bones, Wuthering Heights, The Power and the Glory, and The Constant Gardener. (And if you can name all four of these authors without cheating you can win yourself a YoWD gold star.)
The authors then write:
That sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? They go on to discuss the dangers of literary pretentiousness as well as the problems with going the opposite way into minimalism. Their point is that your voice should not overshadow your story. They quote Frederick Buechner saying that the limitation of the great stylists, such as Henry James or Hemingway, is that "you remember their voices long after you've forgotten the voices of any of the people they wrote about."
A strong, distinctive, authoritative writing voice is something most fiction writers want--and something no editor or teacher can impart. There are, after all, no rules for writing like yourself. Voice is, however, something you can bring out in yourself. The trick is not to concentrate on it.
Browne and King give the following pointers (paraphrased by me) on how to self-edit for voice:
- Highlight sentences or phrases that give you "a little jab of pleasure." Then... go through and read all of them aloud, absorbing whatever made them sing to you. These will represent your voice at its most effective.
- Highlight sentences that make you wince or that seem to fall flat. Go back and try to analyze what makes these places different from the passages which sing. "Is the writing flat? Strained? Awkward? Obvious? Pedestrian? Forced? Vague or abstract?"
- Read these passages aloud, "listening to any little changes you're inclined to make while reading. More often than not, these changes will be in the direction of your natural voice."
Thank you, Renni Browne and Dave King for your marvellous book. And stay tuned for tomorrow's unveiling of October's Craft Book of the Month. It's a doozy!
The greatest advantage of self-editing--including the highlighting we've recommended in this chapter--is the kind of attention you have to pay to your own work while you're doing the self-editing. It demands that you revise again and again until what you've written rings true. Until you can believe it.
It invites you to listen to your work. Do that job of listening carefully enough, lovingly enough, and you will start to hear your own writing voice.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I am loving this book. It's a must for your bookshelves, everyone.
In Chapter 3, we are introduced to the concept of Point of View:
Some writing books distinguish as many as twenty-six different flavors of point of view, but there are really only three basic approaches: first person, third person, and omniscient.
Each of these is elaborated upon. Here are the things I highlighted:
Of first person: "In order to succeed... you have to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep your readers going for an entire novel."
Of third person: "If first person invites intimacy and the omniscient narrator allows for perspective, the third person strikes a balance between the two."
So, the writers ask: "What degree of narrative distance is right for you?"
Answer: Broadly speaking, the more intimate the point of view the better. One of the most vital and difficult tasks facing a writer is creating believable and engaging characters, and an intimate point of view is a terrific way to do this. When you use your characters' language in your descriptions, you not only convey the sights and sounds around them, you also convey their history, their education, and the culture they live in without any additional effort."
Finally, here's a tip close to my descriptively-challenged heart:
Allowing your characters' emotions to steep into your descriptions also lets you use description more freely. When your descriptions simply convey information to your readers, they interrupt the story and slow the pace down. To avoid this, many writers pare description down to a base minimum, often leaving their writing sterile and their pace overly uniform. When description also conveys a character's personality and mood, you can use it to vary your pace or add texture without interrupting the flow. The description advances the story.
There's so much more in this book, but there's only one more Wednesday in this month. (And happy equinox, people.) Next week's topic: Voice.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
A word of warning: because writing and editing are two different skills, they require two different mind-sets. Don't try to do both at once. The time to edit is not when you're writing your first draft.Great news. I love to create new worlds, new characters. But I'm not as strong on the editing side of things. This book is for me.
Week One: What I gleaned from Chapter One: "Show and Tell."
"Show, don't tell." This is the mantra of myriads of writing teachers. But, if you've ever puzzled over what it really means, or have struggled to make it happen in your own writing, hie thee to this chapter. It is brilliant.
The authors compare two versions of a scene from The Great Gatsby. One is narrative summary, the other is an immediate scene. The authors then go on to explain what scenes are, and how important it is to engage your readers:
They also explain what the uses of narrative summary are, and a caveat:
You want to draw your readers into the world you've created, make them a part of it, make them forget where they are. And you can't do this effectively if you tell your readers about your world secondhand. You have to take them there.
Finally, the authors introduce us to R.U.E. (Resist the Urge to Explain).
Be careful when self-editing not to convert all your narrative summary into scenes. Narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of your writing. Scenes are immediate and engaging, but scene after scene without a break can become relentless and exhausting, especially if you tend to write brief, intense scenes.
(Those last two sentences should be tattooed on every budding author's forehead. I'm making my tattoo parlor appointment today.)
Instead of saying "Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust," describe the room in such a way that the readers feel that disgust for themselves. You don't want to give your readers information. You want to give them experiences.
Each chapter in the book ends with a checklist and some exercises. My fave on the checklist is this:
I hope I've made you want to go and check out this book for yourself. It's been very helpful to me in my revision.
Are you describing your characters' feelings? Have you told us they're angry? irritated? morose? discouraged? puzzled? excited? happy? elated? suicidal? Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you're telling what you should show. Remember to R.U.E.
(Next week's topic: Chapter 3: Point of View)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
However, that's not to say I was a slouch on the writing front. All my spare time since May has gone into reconstructing my Middle Grade novel, which has turned into a more mammoth undertaking than I ever envisioned. I will spare you the gory details--but they include both a change of tense and a change of POV. Phew!
Back in May, at the SCBWI-Oregon spring conference, the last session was led by Kate Sullivan of Little, Brown. In it, she reminded us not to forget to read books on craft. "Good point," I thought at the time, since I have shelves full of them. And, since I'm in revision mode, some of these books are an absolute godsend.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I am starting a new blog series. Each month, I will choose a book on craft I've found helpful. Each Wednesday of that month, I will post tips from my esteemed book of the month.
And now for September's Grand Unveiling. The Book of the Month is: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.
And just to show you that I am eminently flexible (as well as realizing that this post is going on way too long), my first comments on it will appear tomorrow. Thursday.
That's right. The Wednesday book of the month is debuting on Thursday. Did anyone say "preschool?"
Sunday, September 12, 2010
With 007 missing, it's up to us to save the free world, Moneypenny. Do you think SPECTRE will see through our church lady disguises?
Sunday, September 5, 2010
"I thumb my nose at you, dreadful denizen of the billowing deep."
Oh wait. Wasn't that the secret hand signal for "more water, please?"
(Happy Labor Day!)