Let’s assume you accept my position from last week’s post that writers must revise their work. Exactly how do you make your shitty first draft better?
Many writers wish for a magic wand to wave over the pages or the keyboard. Sorry, but Harry Potter has moved on to bigger and better projects. I can’t even give you a single, quick-’n’-dirty operation that will do the trick. Because revision isn’t something you do when you finish writing. Revision is really another stage of writing, itself, and can’t be rushed or superseded—or as we saw last week, skipped.
Writing is Revision
Writing isn’t simply the act of spewing ideas from your brain and printing them onto paper. It is the art of choosing just the right words and arranging them into the most appropriate syntaxes and rhythms, and then organizing those ideas into just the right structure to accomplish your purpose and connect with and move your reader. Writing is revision.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” Attributed to Ernest Hemingway, these words have inspired admiring riffs by other writers. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, wrote, “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Caleb Ross, author of Stranger Will, advised writers to “write your novel when you feel like shit; edit when you feel great.”
Here’s Part 3 of 3 on adding detail to your descriptions. Part 1 taught you the importance of using detailed sensory images, motion verbs, and concrete nouns to evoke a reader’s emotions. In Part 2, you learned how to layer details in appositive, noun, and verb phrases.
As promised, here is Part 2 of our powwow on adding detail to your descriptions. In Part 1, we discussed the importance of using detailed sensory images, motion verbs, and concrete nouns to evoke a reader’s emotions.
One Detail at a Time
Think of your story as a blank slate to which you are adding details one at a time. It’s similar to the way a police sketch artist sits down with a crime victim and together they try to render the face of the attacker. The artist takes out pad and paper (or computer, nowadays!) and the subject describes the shape of the villain’s face and the size, shape, and color of his eyes. Next, she gives details about the size and shape of the rogue’s nose, mouth, eyebrows, and ears, and whether he had any facial hair or scars or identifying marks on his skin. Finally, the victim describes the criminal’s hair color, length, and style. At each step during the process, the artist adds another layer to his drawing until the likeness appears just as the crime victim remembers her attacker.
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