As I am attempting to revise my novel Earthbound, I have been discussing it with and sending some chapters to my writing buddy Cassie. I’ve got to say, you can’t really write alone.
Unless perhaps you’re just an amazing prodigy, in which case I just hate you. But having someone who can point out what you need to work on is just crazy instrumental for the process. I grew up writing but never sharing it, and I have to say that I started to grow leaps and bounds as a writer when I started sharing my work in college for a fiction writing class. We workshopped each other’s short stories, and it was amazing how much my eyes were opened to my natural strengths and weaknesses while writing, and these things have been reiterated to me as I have critiqued with others at writers’ conferences and in my comments from Cassie.
It makes me really happy to say that my characters always get love when people read my stories. To me, my characters are people I care about and I’m glad that other people care about them too! I also love character-driven stories, so I guess it’s not too surprising that when I write, I can create likable characters.
Once upon a time before anyone had read any of my writing, I thought I was awesome at dialogue. Why? Because it flowed out of me so easily! I could just write down a conversation between characters that took place in some void because I had no idea where the heck the characters were, much less how to describe it to a reader. But man did I know what they were saying. But I’ve been told more than once that sometimes my dialogue can sound a little wooden, or be too on-the-nose, etc. It’s not that what the characters are saying is bad, it’s just how they’re saying it sounds unnatural. So this is an area I’ve had to work on, and it’s one that I have to remember to work on because I forget that I’m not super awesome at it.
Remember what I said before about writing a conversation that takes place in a void? I’m totally not kidding. I struggle – a ton – with getting myself to describe settings, characters, etc. on a page. HOWEVER, when I make the effort of actually doing it, I get praised for it and told that I’m really good at it! It astounds me because I am so not wordy or purple-prosey when it comes to my fiction writing, but if I push myself at description apparently it works. Maybe it’s because when I actually try, I describe concisely but completely, not taking too much space talking about the setting but not leaving people wanting to know more about it. This was something I really could not do at all before my fiction writing class in college, and that’s when I really trained myself to work on description.
By the time anyone reads my writing I feel good about the plot, so I don’t feel like this has been discussed with me much in terms of my writing, but I struggle a ton with actually planning a plot out before I get the words out. That’s why I have like 100 story ideas but only 4 completed ones (of novel-ish length). Time is a factor too, but mostly it’s just the struggle and commitment to figure out what happens between the beginning and the end and writing it out in a coherent fashion. I’m not like those writers who have no problem doing terrible things to their characters to up the stakes, I want to protect them! But alas, I have to find a way to raise the stakes, otherwise, what’s the point behind it all?
As I revise, it’s easy for me to be overwhelmed. I’m more of a big picture person, so sometimes it’s hard for me to get into nitty-gritty details, but that’s what the revision process is all about. My characters are good, but they could still use some more work, especially the secondary characters. How can I flesh them out, make them feel more real? How can I describe a setting in a scene better? Does this dialogue sound natural? Does the plot flow? Is it too predictable? What can be tightened? There’s so much to look at.
Recently I was thinking about this and suddenly I remembered where I have read other writers talk about writing in layers. So I’ve decided that now that I have gotten the story written out, I need to focus on the details: the characters, their settings, etc.
For example, Earthbound is set in the future with a vague time frame, but despite the fact that there are families living on a space station, it doesn’t feel very futuristic. I feel I need to focus on adding some details concerning technology that we don’t have today, without bogging down the story. I think Lauren Miller did a good job of that in Free to Fall.
Also, my characters are suffering from grief and some are struggling with depression, OCD, etc., but I’m not sure if it feels like a real struggle I want to make sure they feel realistic, and that you can see them growing and healing.
Photos taken from my NaNoWriMo Story Inspiration Pinterest board, which you can check out here.