Sunday, January 18, 2009

Always Learning

Writing is always a learning experience. And a confusing one. I thought creating a novel would be the hard part, but I was wrong. It's deciding which helpful critiques of your work make the most sense.

It's a known fact, if you solicit an opinion, you'll get one...and you may not always like it or agree. This aptly describes being in a critique group. Although, it's often a task to glean the most helpful suggestions from the stack, I encourage every new author to find a group and join. You may receive some negative comments, but you get tons of positive ones that help keep you focused. You have to remember the reason you joined is to help hone your story into it's very best, and everyone has an opinion on how to do that. *lol* The secret is to select suggestions that don't change your voice or alter your story-telling ability, but improve the flow and correct the flaws.

Receiving critiques is like going through an editorial process. You must keep an open mind and consider each possibility. If I like a suggestion, I follow it, but if I don't, I hold firm to what I've written. Sometimes, it's my voice coming through, and what separates my story from any other. Every critique or editing provides an opportunity to learn something new.

Herein lies a problem. When I post excerpts, I always notice something I know now that I wish I'd known then. *lol* But, one of these days, I'm bound to write that award-winning novel with all these facts floating around in my head. At least, as I write now, I stop and remember to replace was with a more active word, or remove the could, would and should to keep my story in the present tense and remove the passive voice. I don't need all those necessary instances of that. I stop and re-read the sentence with and without it, and frequently hit the delete button.

I now look for and delete prepositional phrases (to him, at her) at the end of sentences. A reader is usually smart enough to know what is implied. And certainly, if there are only two people in the room, most tags aren't needed. Nothing is more annoying than every sentence identifying the speaker when I can figure it out on my own. Don't treat your readers like they're dummies. *lol*

I've been told that phrases like 'seemed to," "tried to," and "began to," actually weaken a sentence. It's better to stay in the active mode. Example: The aroma of apple pie seemed to fill the room. Why not say: The aroma of apple pie filled the room and made his stomach rumble.

And hardest of all for me to remember: Cause & Effect. Something has to happen BEFORE some has a reaction. Example: She jumped when the door slammed might be considered okay, but it's better if The door slammed and she jumped. So much to remember!

See what I mean? If not for my critique friends and my wonderful editors, I'd still be just a story-teller. There is a distinct difference between that and being a novelist. The secret is in drawing the reader in, making them experience the smells, feel the emotions, and believe they can see and feel along with the characters. It's not an easy task, but the more I learn, the better I become.


Morgan Mandel said...

I never could have gotten my books published if it weren't from the valuable critiques at my Chicago-North RWA meetings.

Sometimes, I forget and say I'm going to class, instead of saying I'm going to my meeting, because it is like going to class, but a lot more fun.

Morgan Mandel

LuAnn said...

I agree you have to treat your readers with respect. In fact, the Associated Press tells journalists not to clean up quotes, but I admit I tend to do that. I don't want the person talking to sound ignorant with the use of poor grammar. Likewise, I don't want my readers to be insulted by it.

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