Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Writing for Beginners (29)

Stop fiddling!

A common topic of conversation came up recently, when a lady asked me about a book she was writing. ‘How do I know when it’s finished?’ she queried.

The cheeky answer would have been ‘When you write END at the bottom of the final page’. However, while there’s an obvious truth in that, I’ve heard the same point mentioned on several occasions, and found that the question usually arises for two very different reasons. Which of the two is causing the problem is where the individual writer has to decide.

The first comes out of the editing process. This encompasses everything from crossing all the ‘t’s’ and dotting the ‘i’s’, through verifying facts to checking timelines and continuity of detail (blue eyes suddenly turned brown, for example). Whether this is done during or after the main task of writing depends on individual preference. Some people like to edit as they go along, tidying up any mistakes or omissions at the end of each day; others prefer to TTBS (tell the bloomin’ story) and get the bulk of the work done, leaving it until later to worry about the grind of editing, when they can don a different hat.

Personally, I find there is something to be said for the TTBS approach, since coming back to a chapter after an absence often gives me a new perspective on the content and layout when judged against the rest of the work. I believe this allows me to see the detail with a more dispassionate eye, and I tend not to spend as much time editing as I do when I take the do-it-as-I-go-along approach and end up fretting myself into a nervous wreck over dots, commas and doubtful phraseology.

Whichever way works for you is best. But where some writers trip up is simply in over-editing their work. This usually occurs where you find yourself drawn back to a specific paragraph or section of a story, altering the wording because you are not quite satisfied with what you have written. If this happens more often than is usual, you should give it to somebody you can trust and ask their opinion, on the basis that a fresh eye might see what you cannot.

Because we sometimes get too close to a story, and can’t see the wood for the trees (apologies for that cliché), we begin to fiddle and pick away at the work until it risks becoming an obsession. The end result – other than never finishing what we started – is that we end up so far away from where we began, it no longer makes sense.

It’s a bit like the DIY bodger who, trying to level a rickety dining table, saws off bits from each leg in turn, eventually ending up with everyone eating Japanese-style.

In general, you wouldn’t have thought there would be too many problems with deciding how a sentence or paragraph should be set down on the paper. Yet occasionally, something about the appearance on the page can look odd, causing you to be dragged back time and time again without knowing why, and reaching for your fiddling pen.

It could be simply a matter of clumsy spacing, which can hide or interrupt the pace of your delivery. If you want to say something that has some impact for example, introducing a piece of information that, in a film would be accompanied by some dramatic dum-dum-dum music, don’t bury it in a busy section of ‘he said’, ‘she said’ dialogue, where it will get lost or watered down. If it’s important, then far better to have it out there by itself, where it gets noticed.

Your answer may simply be in revising the layout of the problem section. You may have, for example, character A confronting character B, with the all-important high point being where A places a truly damning document on the table. (Cue dramatic music). Yet for some reason the passage doesn’t look right or command the weight you were looking for. The question is, have you put the information in the right place, or has it become little more than a vague gesture which your reader may not spot, thus losing the dramatic inference?

Try giving it some room, and alter the layout. Use the line space to set the action apart from the dialogue, and it could make all the difference.

The second reason for fiddling is more a matter of confidence; many writers find it difficult at first to let their work go out into the big, wide world. This is a great shame, because if you want your work to be read - and published - you owe it to yourself to face this ultimate test. In a  nutshell, it comes down to having the brass neck to say ‘Enough’ and to stick your pride and joy in an envelope and entrust it whatever fate awaits it. 
 
Thinking about it, why short change yourself? There are some who might prefer to hover in that writing limbo, where judgement is never passed on their work. Most people would probably agree that the not knowing is more difficult to live with.

TOP TIPS

·        Learn to know when you have done enough. Over-editing can be counter-productive.
·        If it looks wrong, try re-writing a passage. Then move on. You can always come back later.
·        Finish the story first, then read it through to gain a sense of the flow.
·        Don’t get hung up on one point. If you really don’t like it, cut it out or replace it.
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Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.  

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