Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I wanted to be a writer so I could avoid charts

I hate math. No, really, I despise it. I know why it's necessary and all, but excuse the petulant child in me who didn't understand the purpose of subtraction. Or the one who didn't get what teacher meant by "1/2 is part of a number" because, well, didn't she just write a 1 and a 2 and separate them by a line?

When I was in high school, I had this brilliant novel idea. No, really. It had something to do with Ireland and a female ancestor of a modern American woman and I was going to tell both stories in the book and...it fizzled out. I didn't know have a plan, so I wasn't sure what to research and since I wasn't living during the Potato Famine, research is kind of important.

Dad found a workbook called The Marshall Plan at B&N and I wrote out my plot and characterization stuff in there. It's still on my bookshelf, in case I find a time when I need an aid again. I'm not one of those people who reads very many, if any, writer craft books. I have a Merriam Webster dictionary, a copyediting workbook, and the Chicago Manual of Style on my bookshelf, but actual writer craft books? Two.

One of them is called Revising Fiction and it can be irritating sometimes because it's a serious of niggling questions. (Should your POV character be changed? Should the POV be changed?). The other one is Romance Novels for Dummies and it's not so much a craft book as an all-out genre advice book.

I haven't found crafty books very helpful in the past and that might've been because I didn't understand the literary references or didn't see a way to apply them to my own thing--because I was usually battling laziness and just getting the damn thing down and most craft books are meant to be used on works that already exist or are ready for revision. They seemed to be more about the overall when I didn't have an overall.

Oh, and I'm stubborn and don't take well to books written in even the slightest of condescending tones.

In The Emily Contest critiques, I noticed that one of the judges mentioned a woman named Margie Lawson, who I Googled. She's a writing coach/ editor and a psychologist and gives workshop lectures. So I sprung for two of her lecture packets and am reading them closely.

So far, they involve charting every scene, paragraph, line and rating them with a set of questions,such as--Do they serve a purpose? Do they set the scene? Here are some language techniques you might want to use, such backloading (putting the most powerful word at the end of a sentence, paragraph or chapter, if possible).

Then--Katie, you'll laugh about this--there's this bit in her editing system that involves highlighting the manuscript in different colors based on different elements. Blue for dialogue, yellow for internalizations, green for setting, etc. It's so you can see how much or how little of each is in every scene. I've done it on the printed version of Chapters 1 & 2 and I'm already seeing how most of it is character internalizations, so I should vary on that.

It seems nitty-gritty, within each line and scene type of editing, which is what I need. Hopefully, it'll come out more detailed and visceral and better written.

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