Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ways to Improve your Writing

As I've already mentioned ad nauseum, I'm in the midst of revising a manuscript. It's a good thing, too, because I can't believe how bad that manuscript really was, even though two agents have signed me based upon it. In any event, I got about half-way through revisions and started to worry that I was adding too much introspection.

How much is too much?
One way to get some sort of measure is to see what other, published writers have done. After glancing through a few books, I realized I needed a way to visualize the percentage of introspection in a book and I remembered a technique I had heard about in a writing seminar.

This technique consisted of taking a packet of different colored highlighters and marking the various elements such as dialogue, description, introspection, etc, with different colors so you could see at a glance the weight of each element. This is fine, but I find it's too much extraneous information and too many colors to deal with--too much information, but it was still useable if I exercised a little moderation. I just picked up one highlighter and highlighted all the introspection in one chapter that was at about the same "place" in the book as my current editing location. I wanted the relative placement to be just about even because as books progress, the amount of introspection often changes.

It worked. But here's the really exciting part: although I was about average as far as the amount of introspection, I had unexpectedly changed my hero, and not for the better. Somehow, going through marking things up made me realize understand other aspects such as this character change. Because of all my editing, my hero had started to overthink things. As I was editing, I added a lot of complex inner thoughts.

Women tend to do that, men--less so. Men tend to be more "direct" thinkers, perhaps even "simple" in that they don't circle around the barn when they can just walk right through it. Cut to the chase, bottom line. That's how my hero was before I started fooling around with him. In highlighting the introspection, I realized I was uncomfortable not because I had too much introspection, but because I was inadvertently changed my hero from a fairly straightforward guy into a convoluted, angst-ridden, hand-wringing person. Not good.

Sometimes when we think we have a problem, it isn't the problem we think we have.

Thank goodness for highlighters.

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