Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stretching the Moment

Laura Pauling's post today got me thinking. I know, scary, huh? I love the way she breaks down writing on her blog. Her dissection and analysis helps me to see things in a different light, frequently in a way I can use. Some of the books on writing I've read have been so philosophical they haven't always as practical as I would like. I need something I can take home and use. Laura's posts do that for me.

As I've been learning all kinds of wonderful techniques (through books, conferences, blogs, etc.), I've begun to feel like I did when I was first learning to drive a car and was taking my exam for my license. My heck! There were so many things to keep in mind. Not only did I have to remember which pedal was for the gas and for the brake (shut up--when you're nervous sometimes your brain gets left in the driveway), but you have to remember to look for hazards in front of you such as other vehicles, watch for hazards coming from the sides such as pedestrians, keep from over correcting when you turn the steering wheel (gotta watch that adrenaline rush). And definitely not be distracted by the wrinkled old man--with his dastardly pencil and pad--wheezing so badly in the seat at your side that you're sure he's going to die any minute.

I'm learning that writing is also bit like conducting an orchestra. Whereas with a car, you need to get from Point A to Point B safely, the going doesn't have to be pretty. But in writing, it does.

We've got to remember all the basics like sentence structure, grammar, avoiding overused words, handling dialogue tags and beats, but we've also got to make the readers feel like they're there with our main characters. We must use words that paint a picture not just of the surroundings but of what's going on in our characters' heads, their thoughts and emotions. We need to utilize all the senses in crafting this symphonic work of ours. But just so you know, writing about sensory things for me is hard. I just don't look at my world consciously dealing with my senses most of the time.

Every time I learn something new, I'm finding I need to go through my ms and check to make sure I've been doing this new thing. It makes me wonder if I could lose the story while I'll working on all these technicalities. But my one encouraging thought is that my new knowledge will eventually become second nature, and as I move on to my two uncompleted projects and start work on my two new projects that it won't be such an arduous process.

Kinda like driving.

What about writing comes easily to you? Is there anything that you really struggle with?


  1. Great post!

    I struggle with underwriting and when I try to make up for that, overwriting.

    I'm really good with characterization and voice though.

  2. I just read Laura Pauling's post and it made me think, too. I tend to have different struggles with different books, and my struggle with my WIP has been, "Am I being too boring? Are people going to care about these character interactions or are they going to get exasperated that there's no action right now?" There's such a balance of working this out--especially since I'm also world-building and creating imaginary technology from scratch. I think, too, that sometimes we're so close to our stories that it can be difficult to see it objectively. (Which is one of the many reasons having test readers you trust is so important.)

  3. Melissa, my oldest son is a wiz with description. His visual imagery astounded me even when he was in 7th grade. I was jealous. For me, it's like going into a flower store to select a variety of flowers to make an arrangement. If I go in without a sample, I'll leave empty handed. I just don't see it. Let me take something in to copy and I'm okay. I'm hoping that copying will eventually rub off and come more naturally. haha If I live long enough.

    Laura, you're so right about sometimes being so deeply involved with our stories that we can't look at it objectively. My betas have helped me a lot.

  4. Right now, I'm struggling with even wanting to write. Which isn't like me at all.

  5. Hi Donna! I actually struggle with description, sometimes - when to sprinkle in the right kinds and when it's just over-kill of something non-essential to the story. My strength, or so I've been told, is dialogue.

    There's so much wonderful advice out there, I've been meaning to put together a 3-ring binder or something...printing out the pieces I like the best and categorizing them for reference when I hit a block. As usual, however, I procrastinate... :)

  6. Amber, I can understand that. I usually want to write, but I find myself easily distracted and can't focus. It makes me think of that spell they have so muggles won't see Hogwarts. I sit down to write and I feel a compelling need to be somewhere else. =D Time to read a book or see some movies, maybe?

    Donea, the more we sprinkle in, the more we're telling. Sometimes. Right? I felt a little better when I read that Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) has a hard time with description, too. As a screenwriter, it wasn't a skill she had to develop.

  7. Like Melissa, I underwrite my first drafts, then overwrite my seconds, but I then spend drafts 3+ pruning and shaping.

    Must admit, I feel less like a conductor and more like one of those studio editors: tweaking this, adding that, and all the while making sure that the bass is booming :)

  8. First of all, I have to say that I only know the gas from the brake if I *don't* think about it and leave it to physical memory. If I actually stop to remember which is which, I'm in trouble!!

    I think those writing skills work the same way. Eventually, they become automatic. Or, at the very least, you get good at cleaning them up in revision.

    Tell your story! Let your characters live and your plot develop in ways you weren't expecting! Technically competent writing doesn't get you anywhere without a good story to tell. Put the story first, and the rest will come along later!

  9. Ian, I like that first image of a gardener and the pruning. But the studio editor works, too. Cut this and move it here. Stretch this scene and shorten that one.

    Dianne, I know exactly what you're talking about. In Karate we always called it muscle memory. That's what I'm hoping for.

    Now if I can just figure out muscle memory for description. O_o

  10. Thanks for linking to my blog! That was so sweet of you. And there is so much to keep track of, but we can only concentrate on one thing at a time. And everything I post about is stuff I'm learning and learning to apply to my work!


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