Saturday, October 23, 2010

First submission in writing class reviewed!

I’m enrolled in the “Rock and Roll Writing” course at, with Art Edwards as instructor. Art is the former bassist for The Refreshments and has published three novels. He’s reviewed my first submission, and my biggest flaw so far seems to be repetition. I have to laugh at myself for that, because I’m quick enough to point out repeating ideas when I crit!

Writing is amazing. People who do it can be so clear-sighted half the time, and the other half, they’re rather blind.

“But saying 'fill-in-the-blank' in my story is different,” my inner child whines. “And besides, it’s not repeating, if you’d just think about the nuances of the words you’d realize that.”

Well, dear child, it’s still not necessary.

Art used this passage as an example:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers and raised an eyebrow at Neal. “You’re interested in that? Have you done much physical work?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. What was he getting at? “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“Some of the road cases weigh a hundred pounds,” Lennie said. “They’ve got wheels but it’s not easy moving them around. You’d be hauling amps, speakers, and whatever else needs to be moved. It’s back-breaking and you can’t cut corners. Everybody’s on a tight schedule on tours so there’s no screwing around when it’s time to unload trucks. Can you manage that?”
- - -
When I wrote that, it all seemed necessary. It’s astonishing to listen to what goes on in your own head. Justifications for various bits of dialog run by, are processed and accepted, almost before I even know they happened. For me, the big justification is character voice. I leave in Neal’s thoughts because I want to get across how he thinks, as much as what. Sometimes that’s valid, but the operative word is sometimes.

In the above example, Art suggested dropping certain phrases. When I read over the new version of the passage, my instant reaction was, “But that leaves out some of the points I was trying to make!”

Well -- yeah. Because those points were made elsewhere, or they really didn’t add anything important. Oh sure, Inner Child, you’re taking the high road and claiming that Lennie was making a point about how difficult the work could be, to somebody who’s never done anything like it. But the story is primarily for the readers, and -- wait, I was going to repeat myself ;) See what you think of this version:
- - -
Lennie dropped his pencil on the papers. “You’re interested?”

Neal waited just inside the doorway. “Why? You think I can’t handle it?”

“You’d be hauling amps,” Lenny said, “speakers, whatever else needs to be moved. Some of those road cases weigh a hundred pounds. Everybody’s on a tight schedule and there’s no screwing around.”

“Show me what to do and I do it.”
- - -
This is cleaner and, I think, does in fact flow better. Art offered some other tweaks of the submission, but what I’m most excited about is that he didn’t feel the need to tell me that the piece should be completely reworked.

The other side of this coin is that I feel more confident about my decision that the early part of the story needs more conflict and/or tension. The latest versions of those chapters, as posted on Critique {also known as CC}, have too much talking and thinking. That’s a different animal, though no less important.

My only concern is how to trim phrases without losing too much character voice. Using that same passage again, it does seem to me that cutting those phrases drops some of Lennie’s personality. A character may say something in a less than ideal way because people do sometimes use too many words, but also because that may be how the character talks.

Baaahhh, none of that applies in that example, be honest! Len said all that in the first version because I thought it was important to show what he’d say if these people were real, {did I say if?}, but you can’t do that in writing. I need to take my own advice: writing should represent reality, not try to be reality.

Point made. So, shutting up :D


  1. That was a lovely post, and I really liked your before and after examples. That's what I'd love to see more than anything. People can tell me how to write all they want, but SHOW me what the heck you're talking about, and then I'll get it :)

    That one line: "What's he getting at?" Sometimes I call those "author thought"--it's like the author trying to plant the ideas in our heads, to lead us in the right direction. And yes, I'm guilty of the same charge :)

  2. I think writers get concerned that one sentence doesn't get their thought across. Without realizing it, we try to take the easy way out, and just type another sentence. But we learn, and then we re-write that one sentence.

    And yeah, I absolutely love examples too.

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  4. Accidently used my husband's profile. In "On Writing", Stephen King swears that writers suffer from lack of confidence, hence the overwriting. I love the example he provides of how he edited "1409". I could use a whole book of just that.

  5. Oh, and thanks for the wonderful critique!

  6. Sure thing, Mysti :) I think the lack of confidence thing is very valid. We're afraid we don't get it right, so we try to fix it. Only trouble is, we try to fix it by adding, rather than streamlining. But we can retrain ourselves! Yes we can!