I apologize for being AWOL for a few weeks. Work has been extra busy and my daughter had a baby. I had to decide: blog? baby? Hmmm. Guess who won? Sweet little Payton Annabelle! But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in The Terminator, “I’m back!” Of course, if Payton starts smiling…
We’re Still Revising
I want to explain the parts of revision in more depth. Perhaps you’ll recall its three steps: Revise, Edit, Proofread. Today we’ll tear down the walls and expose step 1.
It is confusing that both the process itself and its first step have the same name, but English has many worse conundrums, like why enough, through, plough, dough, and cough all pronounce ough differently, and why we don’t have a pronoun for hisorher. You know what I mean—for those instances in which people say, “An individual should always do their best work.” Drives me crazy. We just have to get over it.
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 Revision is really another stage of writing, itself, and can’t be rushed or superseded—or as we saw last week, skipped.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.
Alec is the most patriotic man you’d ever want to meet.
Each Memorial Day, Marco hangs three American flags from his front porch, one for each of his schoolmates who died in Iraq; sings with his church group a medley of The Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and America at the local VA hospital; and serves a ham and eggs dinner at a soup kitchen.
When you’re reading a story and the author wants you to believe a character is patriotic, do you simply take the author at his or her word? Or do you want proof—actions that show the character actually possesses the quality?
In All the Light You Cannot See, Anthony Doerr writes, “Don’t you ever get tired of believing, Madame? Don’t you ever want proof?”
Most of us want proof. Humans are wired to respond emotionally to concrete images, not abstract ideas. We like our images to move. And the more details we add to those concrete action images, the more proof we offer, the more solid those images become in our minds.
Why do people love soap operas and reality shows? We want the gossip, the dirt—the details. When my friend goes on a date, she calls me, not just to say, “It was nice.” She wants to tell me what her date said and how he said it or if he talked too much and whether he paid for dinner and if he kissed her and…all the details. After a football game, even though my husband just watched every play of the game, he watches the post-game show that will rehash all the details. Continue reading All (About) the Juicy Details
Before you read one more word, please click on this link and read this essay, an excerpt from the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Do it now. I’ll wait. I’ll even wait while you order the book. The rest is as fabulous as the excerpt. Clicking on the title or picture of the book above will whisk you to Amazon via my affiliate link. Just don’t get shopping and forget to return!
Now that you have Paloma’s marvelous take on grammar as “a way to attain beauty,” I’d like to add my own comments to the mix. I could barely sit still when I first read this essay, as I am a grammar maven. I’ve always thought that was a strange-sounding word, maven. It means “expert or connoisseur.” I’m by no means an expert, but I’m certainly a connoisseur.
Though perhaps not as classically beautiful as Fibonacci’s golden spiral in a rose or nautilus, each of grammar’s innate structures is attractive in its own way. Below are a few of my faves…
What do you think of interjections? You know, words like Ha! Yeah! Aw… Huh? In formal writing, these are scorned as third step-cousins, twice removed. But in spoken conversation, they are the grease that lubricates the wheels of language. Wow! Can you imagine getting through a day without them? Nope. Now that much of our communication involves email and texting, vehicles that simulate spoken language patterns, we employ interjections there, too.
At the beginning of each semester, a fair number of my student writers relied on “The Sloppy Seven” sentence starters. In any given paragraph, most of their sentences began with The, I, He, She, They, We, As, or It. Each student had his or her favorites. Dave (name changed) started three out of five sentences in one essay with The. Ellie (name changed) started four out of six with I. So the students could see, at a glance, how frequently they used them, I highlighted the words they repeated.
For example: My niece is passionate about horses. She loves to brush them and braid their manes and tails. She doesn’t even complain about mucking out the stalls. She takes lessons twice a week and goes to competitions. My sister pays the bills, so she hopes my niece outgrows this hobby. I bet someday she’ll be buying a horse.
How often do you listen to other writers speak? I don’t mean reading what they’ve written, but listening to them talk out loud—hearing the words drip from their lips. When authors share prepared remarks or better, speak off the cuff, you get a whole different insight into their writing—and your own.
I was hunting interesting websites to share with my Creative Power Writing Facebook friends last night, and as things happen, one idea snowballed into another. Weird Al Yankovic’s Word Crimes video popped up and I bookmarked it as a future post; then I thought, Hey, maybe I should look for more videos!
So I typed “writing” into the box on YouTube. The usual writing instruction and tips videos popped up, but also videos of authors giving speeches and doing interviews and 3-5-minute inspirational clips. A half-hour video of Stephen King answering audience questions at The University of Massachusetts Lowell revealed how King balances story and poetic language, how he develops characters, and why he loves kids as protagonists. He may be scary, but King is a funny guy, too! At one point, he started gushing a little too much about kids and had to stop himself: “I’m starting to sound like Michael Jackson, so I’d better shut up.”