A couple of weeks ago I attended a day-long fiction-writing boot camp with Nora Profit, who “teaches writers to be authors” through her business, The Writing Loft.
Much of the information was review, but I took away two valuable lessons and one that must be applied judiciously.
I wrote in a previous blog post about one of Nora’s teaching points: the value of coming up with a goal statement for every piece you write. I am still struggling to create this for “Dance of Souls,” which has been finished for almost two years and published for almost one. Needless to say, deciding why you are writing the book after publishing it is hardly the ideal order of operations. I’m working on a goal statement for my novel-in-progress that I can commit to before I finish the next draft.
The other valuable takeaway from the boot camp was the importance of scrutinizing every scene for its emotional impact on the reader by asking “What do you want the reader to think while reading the scene? What do you want the reader to feel?” I am asking these questions as I work on revising my first draft. It’s tedious work, but then, lots of writing is.
My faith in these two activities was bolstered by the fact that I employed both for the first time in writing “The Boy in the Window,” which won two awards.
Now for the third takeaway, imparted in the form of an imperative.
Do away with adverbs and adjectives.
To be fair, Nora conceded that maybe you don’t need to cut every one.
I understand why she admonishes writers, especially new ones, to stay away from these parts of speech. Too often, weak writing relies on strings of adjectives because the writer has not figured out what he or she wants to say. “Weak dialogue depends on adverbs, rather than the strength of the words or the character’s actions, to convey tone,” (she said censoriously).
But strip all qualifying words from your fiction and you end up as Hemingway (not a bad fate, perhaps). In the worst case, though, you might end up an emotionless writer without an identifiable voice.
I struggle with this issue as I revise the first draft of my current novel. How much do I strip away? What words are necessary to tell the story? Which are essential to convey the essence of a character? And can I find faith in my own abilities as a writer to answer these questions?
How do you walk the line between following the prescription for “good writing” and staying true to your voice? Comment and let me know.
If you’re interested in a peek into my editing process, see below. I reproduced the first draft of this blog post exactly as I wrote it, before any editing.
My commitment for the next round is to complete a second draft, which means editing for emotional impact (as described above) and line editing. There are 22 chapters, so that goal translates to a relatively blistering pace of two chapters a week. I have already done one; I am at work on another. Stay tuned.
First Draft of This Blog Post, If You’re Interested
I have had a busy two weeks. To be fair, my whole life always seems busy and I don’t think it is going to change much going forward.
A couple of weeks ago I took a day-long fiction-writing “bootcamp” with Nora Profit, whose business, The Writing Loft, “teaches writers to be authors.” Much of the information was review for someone who has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a master’s degree in magazine journalism.
I got two valuable things from the day, one of which I wrote about earlier after hearing Nora speak at a CWC meeting. The first is the importance of scrutinizing every scene for its emotional impact on the reader by asking “What do you want the reader to think? What do you want the reader to feel?” after reading the scene. I have folded those questions into the revision of my first draft.
The other valuable takeaway was coming up with a goal statement. This is something I am still struggling to create for “Dance of Souls,” which has been finished for almost two years and published for almost one. Needless to say, I don’t think that’s the ideal order of operations, so I’m working on something for my novel-in-progress that I can commit to before I finish the next draft. Thanks to my writing partner, I’m getting close.
My faith in these two activities was bolstered by the fact that I employed both for the first time in writing my prize-winning story, “The Boy in the Window.”
The third thing I took away was really more of a reminder of something I already knew, but it is a bit more troubling. It was Nora’s admonition to do away with adverbs and adjectives.
Now, to be fair, she did temper her admonition. Maybe not every one. And I understand exactly where she is coming from. Too often, weak writing is overly reliant on a string of adjectives to try to convey something: the old “tell” vs. “show.” But strip all qualifying words from your fiction and you end up as Hemingway or worse, a stilted, wooden-sounding writer without a voice of your own.
I am struggling with exactly this issue right now. How much do I strip away? What words are essential to tell my story? What are essential to convey the essence of a character? And can I find faith in my own abilities as a writer to know the answers to these questions?
Now, for an interesting exercise. Below, see the entire blog post as first drafted. You can let me know if I have edited wisely.