English 281/282

Things to Consider

(Thanks to Steve Wolfe)

  1. Spell correctly and be aware of word usage. Words and grammar are your tools; respect them. They are also fascinating and delightful in their own right, and deserve to be studied for insight, improvement, and pleasure.
  2. Read constantly and critically. Pay attention to how authors solve particular problems (successfully or not).
  3. What is your story? What actually happens (physically, psychologically, thematically) from beginning to end? If a reader is going to follow you for any reason other than your personal charm, there'd better be some kind of dramatic movement in either the plot, the development of a character's thoughts, or the way the imagery is described and presented.
  4. Speak your dialogue out loud. Does it sound like real people talking, or like an author giving information?
  5. Cut the first paragraph and see how it sounds. Then try cutting the first page and a half. Is it better? Then consider whether you need that first 1.5 pages. Try the same thing with the ending. Is it imperative that you end where you do? Endings can be the most problematic parts of stories. Pay attention to them. Don't be satisfied with something that seems dramatic, or moving, or cool, at first blush. Look for resonance: does the whole story reverberate in your heart or mind or ear after you've finished reading?
  6. Little Precious Jewels: These are scenes, descriptions, characters, and other elements with which you are enamored; that make you thrill at your own writing prowess when you read them; that seem to stand out as perfect multifaceted gems; and yet, somehow, they don't fit. Everyone has them. Maybe they get in the way of the paragraph's flow, or cause you to retain a theme or plot thread that your instinct tells you is wrong, or they are stylistically incongruous. CUT THEM OUT. Learn to be ruthless with your own work. Anything that doesn't work in the piece as a whole must be exterminated. If you can't bear to lose them, collect them in a notebook and forget them; later, you may find a use for them elsewhere.
  7. Try radically different approaches. Tell a story from a different character's point of view. If you've done it in one long continuous narrative, try breaking it up into fragments. What would your realistic love story look like if it were a fabulist free-for-all? What if your narrator were a wise old woman instead of a cynical teenager? What if you wrote in long, convoluted sentences instead of short choppy ones? In short, experiment. The more different approaches you attempt, the more confident you can be that the one you ultimately choose is the proper one for your material.
  8. Feel utterly free to do anything you want in your writing. Realize that no one has to see anything if you don't want to show it to them. You can always rewrite. Kill the editor in your head and just begin. There's no cosmic referee who's going to smite you for not following "the rules" (there are no rules). Anything goes, as long as it works.