Refinement

I know it’s only mid-August, but it seems like NaNo is already looming.  I know that there are more than two months until the big day (in fact, 72 days, which sounds like a lot), but on the other hand, the entire last third of the year seems to be eaten by NaNo.

I don’t think this year will be any different.

I want to start working on some things for NaNo.  Not directly plotting/planning/generating ideas (though I think I’m going to try that this year, for reasons I’ll elucidate in another entry), but still something to help.  Or maybe it’s just to help myself as a writer, and it will help me survive The November Madness.

I want to work on my…style? storytelling? voice? writing skills? a bit.

Through ignorance, apathy, or hurry I’ve picked up some habits in my writing that are not the best (or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I haven’t picked up the habits that I should have).  So there are a few things that I want to focus on, probably with short story writing of some sort.

In no particular order…

  1. Stop using “think”, and all of its derivatives.  I shouldn’t be writing that Sarah thought that she was going to die, or Zin thought that Balazar was a huge prick.  It’s lazy, boring, and not very revealing.  I’m going to go on a war-path against those words, instead showing that the characters think/feel that without saying it.  Or try.
  2. Use “but” and “therefore”, not “and”.  I don’t mean this in a grammatical way (well, not entirely), but in a storytelling way.  A story is a series of events, and how they are connected matters.  And is boring, but but is good.  See also, Stephen Blackmoore’s recent post (on Chuck Wendig’s blog) for another link and other good tidbits.
  3. Remember the camera.  I’m a rather visual person, and absorb a lot of storytelling though movies as well as books, but still fuck this one up.  It relates to #1.  When I see my scene in my head, I need to focus on writing what the camera can see.  Not what I as the author knows, or the character thinks, or (generally) back story and asides, but what is happening, and I need to focus on that and bring it out to the reader.
  4. Get better at dialog.  People, how do they talk?!

That’s enough for now.  It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list, but I’ll probably be doing some writing exercises related to this, mostly by writing and trying not to do this (I’m saving my creativity for what I write about instead of having an interesting writing exercise plan).

Notably not on the list is avoiding “was”, “were”, and their ilk.  Avoiding the passive voice I agree with, but using a conjugation of to be does not passive voice indicate, and excising those from my writing with wild abandon would eliminate useful tenses.  Namely, the progressive tenses.

To wit, “The door was shut by him” is passive, “I was sad” is not (but kind of boring), and “I was walking to the store when a bear attacked me” is both active and unfortunate.

*steps off soapbox* (Yes, I know most people know this, but I have seen people confused about this, and adamant that any use of “was” is passive voice)

So!  What about you out there in reader-land?  What kinds of crutches are you trying to remove from your writing style?

 

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3 Responses to Refinement

  1. tiakall says:

    While I find rules like “don’t use passive” or “don’t use thought” to be useful to keep in mind, sticking to them can be just as much of a crutch. For example, I wouldn’t avoid thought in the sense of a monologue tag (e.g., No need to panic. I can do this, she thought.) and I wouldn’t avoid “and” in a number of cases (“walking and chewing gum”, “kicking ass and taking names”, and I know you said not in a grammatical sense, but “peanut butter but jelly” makes me giggle.)

    My goal when trying to refine my writing is to look for patterns and try to avoid them. For example, I discovered I had a bad habit of using “for a moment” a lot, so I made an effort to cut or reword most of them. Now, my problem child is “nodded”. Everyone nods! =_=

  2. racquelin says:

    Once upon a time, I used ‘was + ___ing’ a lot. A LOT.

    It is largely purged from my writing, and I can only shudder and look back at what things were.

    I need more action in my dialogue. When I get in a hurry for whatever reason, people stop doing anything and just stand still and bicker. This is not okay. It is actually quite boring to read. It’s almost as bad as the ‘was + ___ing.’

  3. Liornessa says:

    “Just” and variations of smiling are my biggest crutches. My characters have also been known to do an excessive amount of blinking, nodding, furrowing their eyebrows, and sneering.

    I have been making a concentrated effort to trim these words or avoid them altogether with some success. Until NaNo. NaNo time I fail. FAIL. This is also the time where I forget important things like, say, description or showing vs. telling. Not all the time. Eventually I’ll hit a block and go, “oh right, this character is some place; mayhaps I should describe that.”

    This used to bother me, but then I read the Magical Words post “Abandoning Standards” and it made sense. My brain focuses on the parts of the story easiest for me to get down and fleshes out the other stuff later.

    Which doesn’t explain the “just” crutch, so I’ll, um, just have to work on that 😛

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