The Prompter Room

For Friday, January 6, 2017:

 

As you start out in rough drafts [of your memoir], setting down stories as clearly as you can, there begins to burble up onto the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and a human being.  If you trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page … the book will naturally structure itself to maximize what you’re best at.  You’re best at it because it sits at the core of your passions.

Mary Karr, THE ART OF MEMOIR

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The Prompter Room

For Thursday, February 4, 2016:

 

“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”

William Howard Taft

Thank goodness for second drafts.

Yesterday, while working on the revisions of my novel, I came across a series of paragraphs that made perfect sense when I first wrote them.  Reading them through the lenses of the finished first draft, however, and then the changes, additions, reordering, and pieces that had to be omitted in this second draft, I realized those particular older parts didn’t make sense at all, even at the time.

I expect we’ve all been there: we have an idea – however clear or vague – of where the story is going and how, so we write and write and write to get there.  We see the action and the scenes, we hear the dialogue, and we think we’ve covered all the bases. We’re all excited.  Our clear-as-mud idea is coming to fruition.

 Come to find out, though, we’ve skipped over vital information, we’ve gone one way when we should’ve gone another.  We’re good writers – why didn’t we see that the first time? Continue reading “The Prompter Room”

The Prompter Room

For Thursday, January 28, 2016:

 

“Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with.”

Nancy Ann Dibble

This new novel-in-process that is now in the second draft stage needs a plane.  I realized this as I read through the first draft, especially the first two chapters.  I’ve spent the past two or three days trying to build this particular equivalent to a plane, but now I’m stuck.  After several pages of rewrites and additions, I think I’ve made decent progress, but I still need to figure out a way for one of the main characters to fall out that is believable.

As I’ve noted elsewhere in these posts, this is a tried-and-true technique for many novelists and even some poets: start the story in the middle, or at least with some action.  For some of us this is easier said than done.

When I was a young writer – both in age and experience – I wanted to begin with descriptions of place and gradually add characters.  Part of that was because I grew up reading novels that started that way.  Readers’ tastes and expectations were different then, and they were used to leisurely build-ups in their fiction.  If you’ve read William Faulkner or James Michner (to use only two examples, but there are many more), you’ll know what I mean.

In today’s faster-paced ‘Twitter world,’ however, contemporary writers are faced with the task of matching the immediacy of global television and media because it’s what some readers now expect.  We’re told we have to grab their attention right away in order to keep their interest.

Without getting into a discussion of the merits of ‘old-fashioned’ versus ‘modern’ writing and stories — been there, done that — in part because I believe there are good points in both styles, I do know this little book of mine needs more action at the beginning.  I knew it as I was working on the first draft, so how to do so was always in the back of my mind.  Now I just have to figure out how to get over that wall before the plane crashes – although that could make for an interesting twist for the characters who are falling.  Hmmm …

The PrompterRoom

For Monday, January 18, 2016:

 

“Focus on the story, not the sentence.”

James Patterson

For the first draft, yes.  And most of the second, with perhaps a tweak here or there, or a note to change a couple of paragraphs around (or delete them altogether).  The story’s still coming together at this point, so it’s too early to worry too much about things like sentence structure or spelling (unless mistakes change the meaning).

Once the third draft rolls around, the focus can shift more toward technique.  Now is the time to ensure the sentences move the story along, so they have to be in better shape.  They still don’t need to be perfect at this point, but it’s a good idea to start honing in on tense agreement, for example (do they agree?), and if those paragraphs need to stay or go.  If you’re writing fiction and suspension of belief is called for, is it crafted in such a way that it’s believable, where the reader could see such-and-such happening?  What blanks or holes need to be filled in?

After you’ve finished the third draft, you can – if you so desire – hire an editor to start working on the story and the sentences.  She or he will work to make sure the sentences benefit and enhance the story.  S/He will go line by line to ensure the grammar and spelling and tenses are all correct.  Then s/he will look for paragraphs that need to be moved elsewhere, for holes that need to be filled in and developed.

Now that the fourth draft is completed, you and the editor work to fine-tune everything.

Then it’s time to ask the hardest questions: Does the story hold together now that all those changes have been made?  Have the two of you made it easy – not simple, mind you, but easy – for the reader to focus on the story that you focused on in the beginning?

 

How Do You Work Best?

Note: A short time after I posted this, I realized I’d already published it here with a different title.  I was going to take it down, but I received a comment or two immediately and decided to keep it up.  In the interim, I had the opportunity to read an article about something very similar, which bears out — and says better and in more detail — what I was trying to express.  The article can be found at NPR.com.  Look for the title ‘In a Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks are as Relevant as Ever’ from May 27, 2015.  Be sure to read the comments, too!

Do you have or utilize different writing/creative processes for the different genres in which you write?

When I write poetry, for instance, I have to start and finish the first draft in longhand. Once I start refining a poem, I can do it on the computer – though it always seems better when I stick to pen and paper – but it always has to start with the physical process. The pen has to channel my images and thoughts onto paper. And I need silence. Lots and lots of silence, and no distractions.

When I write fiction, I usually start that same way, but then I can easily go to the computer or go back and forth between the two as I craft the final product. Again I need silence for this, but there can be the (very) occasional and short-lived distraction.

Creative non-fiction is the easiest to compose on the computer, for some reason. And I can work on something with other things going on around me.

I’ve always been intrigued at these differences. So here’s the question: How do you work best in your various genres and why?

Different Strokes

Do you have or utilize different writing/creative processes for the different genres in which you write?

When I write poetry, for instance, I have to start and finish the first draft in longhand. Once I start refining a poem, I can do it on the computer – though it always seems better when I stick to pen and paper – but it always has to start with the physical process of the pen channeling my images and thoughts onto paper. And I need silence. Lots and lots of silence, and no distractions.

When I write fiction, I usually start that same way, but then I can easily go to the computer or go back and forth between the two as I craft the final product. Again I need silence for this, but there can be the (very) occasional and short-lived distraction.

Creative non-fiction is easier for me to compose on the computer, for some reason. And I can work on something with other things going on around me.

I’ve always been intrigued at these differences. So here’s the question: How do you work best in your various genres and why?