Saturday, December 26, 2009

Writing Reflections

I love being a member of Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Southern Indiana Writers' Salon, and American Christian Fiction Writers. Writing is a solitary enterprise, for the most part, so belonging to such groups is essential. We need the objective feedback of others.

As part of ACFW's large general loop and a small critique group, I've learned much about my craft. The loop boasts membership that includes editors, agents, reviewers, professors who teach writing, and writers at all stages in their careers, from the rank beginner to the oft-pubbed author. Thanks to a critiquer who was part of my first small group (and remains a friend and critique partner), my writing is tighter, more precise. I still can be wordy, but I'm improving.

However, if writers were to try to conform to all of the tidbits of advice given--through a loop or any other source--we would all sound alike.  Consider the great writers of American literature for a moment. One can read the short, crisp sentences of Hemingway and recognize his style immediately. He wrote simply and directly. What he lacked in syntax and diction, according to critic Harry Levin, he made up for in action. Faulkner, on the other hand, wrote in a very different style, constructing long, convoluted sentences that painted vivid pictures in the imagination of the reader. Yet, Hemingway and Faulkner were contemporaries. Like them, each writer should have his or her own voice and style.

Good writing applies common sense and survives the trends of the day, giving it a long shelf life. "Lose the tags," we're told. "Introduce lines of dialog with action beats." That's reasonable advice, though it's not really new. The terminology may have changed, but the idea stays the same. If two people are talking back and forth, the writer can omit most of the he said/she saids. Action beats (what actors might call "business") help to eliminate "talking heads" and serve to develop characters and scenes.

These days, we also hear a lot about deep point of view or penetration point of view--same thing. This form of third-person writing sees and understands the scene through the character's eyes, giving the motivation behind the action. It falls just shy of being first-person, showing the attitude at the moment, not in memory or flashback. As with any strategy, it has its faults. It is no more reliable than first-person because of its subjectivity. The character may misunderstand or misinterpret events (which can be exactly what the writer intends). Because it can be very intense, it has the potential to wear on the reader, if carried on too long, so the writer should be discriminating in its usage.

"Show. Don't tell." How many time have we heard that? It is good advice to new writers, who tend to want to tell or describe everything in long, boring paragraphs. But there are times when the narrator needs to tell, to describe, times when some details need to be conveyed to the reader efficiently. Careful revision can eliminate many so-called narrator intrusions, but not all should be cut or changed.

I recently joined a new small critique group through ACFW, and I am so excited. We are beginning a new adventure together on the brink of a new year. I want them to be tough on me. They can rest assured that I will be on them. In the months since I joined ACFW, I have developed a tough skin. I can take it. I will consider each suggestion, though I may disagree, and I may not make all the revisions each one suggests. I'm the writer of my work, so that call is mine to make.

As I pray before each writing session, I also want to remember to pray before I begin reading their critiques, that God will keep me teachable, helping me to discern what needs to be changed and what can stay as it is. I pray that we become a cohesive team while maintaining our individuality--we four and the Lord.

1 comment:

  1. I must agree with Sharon. Writers are born, not taught. However not all with the raw talent become good writers. It requires a great deal of reading and it needs coaching by those who wish to nurture you, not give you formulas. As to point of view, writers should try out different ones. In my short stories in Spanish (Liliana y el espjo) I have numerous kinds of point of view (first person as main character, first as a secondary character, third following a particular character's point of view, third as a troubadour singing a saga, third as a journalist reporting findings, but all of it fictional. In my new release (in English), Angela 1: Starting Over, the first of a series of three, it is third-person narration, but I follow the point of view of the main character, 10th-grader Angela Fournier, throughout. It is a short, economical novel and the procedure gives it cogency and holds it together. To learn more, please click on my name and follow the link to my website. Thanks!