Monday, March 19, 2012

3 Ways to Improve Writing During Revision

My 5 year old whippersnapper is in Kindergarten. These kids today, they learn far more in the big K than I'm certain I did. For example, they're expected to read and write fully by the end of the school year, whereas I'm fairly sure all I had to know in Kindergarten was my alphabet and the value of being quiet during "nap" time after recess. Oh, and there was that boy who taught me to scribble yellow and brown marks as pee and poo on my papers, too.

Even more amazing is the math. The whipsnap can do basic addition and subtraction in his head. I've got 30 years on him and I haven't mastered that skill. He reads and writes on par with his grade level, although his handwriting resembles drawings of spiders--but this is considered normal. What's interesting to me is that it's already clear where his strengths are. Math comes naturally to him and when I asked him what he likes better, math is the unequivocal answer. This, despite reading incessantly with him since he was a wee baby, and me concentrating on the reading and writing with him.

At least it tells me where his strengths and weaknesses lie. Chances are, I don't have to coach him much on math, while he can use a bit more help on his reading and writing.

As I go through serious, hardcore revision on my manuscript, it's become very clear that if I can discover my weak areas of novel writing, then I can really attack those. You can, too--and your result should be a kick ass story.

But how do you find your weaknesses? Here's how:

1. Look for patterns in your critiques. 
My light bulb moment came when I realized almost every reader I've ever had for every story has said I write great dialog--which is wonderful to hear. Similarly, a pattern emerged in the serious critiques: my characters tend to be passive (because I am passive), which surprised me and therefore I rejected. I said, "They totally are NOT passive! I wrote her specifically to be strong!" And yet, my characters were passive in subtle ways. Realizing that was huge for me, and I'll always be on the watch for that--and more importantly, looking out for ways to improve it.

2. Find what comes hard in writing for you.
Making my characters take clear action versus stepping back and assessing a situation hasn't been my MO. It's a good bet that the things I want to stick my head in the sand about are the ones I need to work harder on.

3. Identify what you love.
This is the flip side of the finding what comes hard coin. If you know what you love doing--I love writing dialogue, and it flows pretty easily--then you know you have that set. You should challenge yourself. If you love writing description about fantastical worlds and the creatures that live there, right down to the color of fur on their horns, then you should probably pay close attention to character motivation, or dialogue, or plot--anything other than description.

Does anyone have any other suggestions to add? I'd like to know!





3 comments:

Meghan Ward said...

I'm on the umpteenth revision of my memoir, and my weakness screams at me loudly and clearly: STORY ARC STORY ARC STORY ARC. Novelists may call this plot, but in memoir, we don't have plots. My scenes are full of conflict, but the conflict isn't RISING (I'm going to write a post about this), and that's what I'm working on in this revision. And I did learn that by having several people read my ms and give me similar feedback. I highly recommend people in critique groups have their readers read their book at some point. Otherwise you end up in my boat - with a lot of perfected chapters that don't build up to a strong climax.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Couldn't agree more, Meghan, and I definitely felt the lack of overall plot/arc feedback in our group. Good luck--you know the issue, and you can tackle it.

Cathryn Leigh said...

Ha HA I just volunteered for my daughter's K class today. i got out of the Parent's table (where the parent gets to lead a small goup of kids in an activity or game) since they had an intern to help. I did get to do arts and crafts (aka cutting shaps and gluing them on paper for later projects) while I listened to the class. it really is amazing what they are teaching kids in grade K. I guess with the amount of knowledge they have to learn, you've got to start earlier...

Now on to your advice. :}
Hm... I wonder what my weaknesses are. Spelleing and grammar for sure, but I have two Grammar nazi friends to help with that. Of course my work hasn't seen a wide critue audience yet. But you've got me wondering... I know I tend to be passive myself. I wonder if I have the same issue. I'd like to think not. But it'd probably be better if someone else tell me if it was aproblem.

:} Cathryn

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