Thursday, April 5, 2007

Bad writer, ignoring your readers

Hello readers. I'm sorry for ignoring you. Blame stress at work. I always do. heh.

So I have an older sister who writes. She sent me an email with some new writing the other day and only today did I get around to checking my email in order to reply. It was an interesting start to a story and it made me think of Book #1 (or was it Book A?). Anyhoo.

It's my questy/classic high fantasy story that I dare not look at for fear of keeling over from the horror of the writing. It got me highest honors in English, but I have this image of it still reading as very young. I began it in high school, reworked, finished and revised it in college, and I know it isn't as good as my current stuff is. But then, that's not surprising. I'm still learning, so it makes sense the earlier, less skilled work reads younger and doesn't have as much depth.

But that story was the sort where I started writing without little more than an opening scene and a couple of characters. 50-80 pages in, I had to stop and completely rework those first pages as I figured out what the plot was now that I had a firmer grasp on the characters and what they wanted. Her story read like that. In my opinion, it's perfectly fine to start a story with only a vague idea of what's going on. It can take longer, but eventually you get a feel for the chcracters and the plot and can rewrite the earlier stuff to match the story after you figured it out.

In my writer's group a few women always seem to ask the new members whether they have an outline for the plot. But they ask in a way that seems, to me (I could be totally wrong in my assumption, but for the sake of this post and point) like they expect every writer to know exactly how the story ends right from the get-go. I don't necessarily agree with that. Just as every writer has a different process for writing, they have different processes for planning a story as well. It may make it harder for them to critique because they don't know where it's going, but a lot of these stories coming in now, they still don't, even if the first draft is done or the writer herself knows exactly how the story goes.

No one else needs to know how you write a book. But you should know your own methods. Know your weaknesses, be it dialogue or plotting or too many flashbacks. Know how you edit and what you tend to miss (which you can find out by seeing what a consensus of readers point out for improvement that you consistently don't see until they point it out), and know your strengths.

I noticed this a few times with our new members that had also attended another group. That "well, they said to take X out, now you're telling me to put X back in." You can't always listen to writing groups. You have to look at what others say and then decide for yourself what works best. If you can conceivably look at every comment a critiquer gives and explain why you need to leave it as is (a real reason, not, 'but it's my baby,' remember dears, "Murder Your Darlings"), then leave it as is. If their suggestion makes sense to you keep it and make the change, but you're the writer and it's your story and your method of writing. they aren't writing your story for you and...

You will always know more about your story and the characters than the reader does. As much as we sometimes want to put in all the cool little quirks and tiny details that create this beautiful image in our heads, we can't always. We have to pick and choose for the single or small handful of details that create the image in the readers' heads. Alas, if I get published, my readers may never know that my protagonist's best friend used to be quite bulked up (not obscenely so, but a lot) and he lost a lot of muscle mass after a long illness. He's crazy tall and still muscular but very lean, a few shades short of skeleton at times, if you'll allow me the exaggerated imagery.


...Heh. I have no idea how to wrap this up. Yay for distractions and losing one's train of thought.

Happy writing.


writtenwyrdd said...

How about telling these ladies, "Yes, I have an outline, but it is subject to change without notice."

I like to think I have a goal for each scene, chapter, story. But that changes as more information is revealed through the writing. It also leads me personally to having too much written-- a flaw I am constantly dealing with-- and the need to reassess the goals as I go and possibly revise previous bits so it all fits together.

You just find what works for you and keep on trucking! Anyone else's process is fine to try one, like hats. You don't want to buy them, but trying them on can be interesting, amusing, or such.

Sabrina said...

I think one day, I might like to try that process of writing all the dialogue first and then filling in the narrative, which I've heard about. I can't imagine writing that way, which makes me think it'd be an interesting experiment to try with a short story.