Category: Editorial Tricks

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Do Not Overtighten

Having recently dropped a kid off at college for the first time, I know what it’s like to put together some IKEA furniture…with the added handicap of trying to read the directions through a film of tears. Not joking.

 

Something about the directions for her bed struck me as useful for writers. In an early step (#5 of #21), they tell you not to overtighten the hex bolts. This is because one piece has to fit into another and there has to be some give — you get to the tightening of both pieces later.

You see where I’m going with this, right? I see a lot of writers overtightening their first draft: wordsmithing, agonizing over the perfect dialogue snippets or vocation for a minor character. Those answers will come over the course of the drafting process if you leave things a little loose. If you overtighten, you will just have to go back to a much earlier step and undo everything you have done between now and then — or worse, snap a piece off in your hand and have to go back to that giant parking lot with the weird trolley carts that don’t hold a damn thing comfortably.

Do not overtighten.

Good Beginnings Ask Good Questions

Beginnings in literature are highly confusing. In media res, inciting incidents, grab-‘em-in-the-first-five-pages-or-I-can’t-represent-this… you know the drill.

To back up, I think the easiest way to think about plot is that a story has to ask a question. And then not answer it. And then answer it. If it’s a novel, you might want to have several questions, some of which are answered as they resolve themselves into different and perhaps more difficult questions.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. In fiction or creative non-fiction, we start with a question. (In prescriptive non-fiction, the equivalent is identifying a lack which the reader perceives within himself or herself). Beginnings ask questions. Good beginnings ask good questions.

 

Revision is Not a Secret

Revision is not something you do after you are done writing. Revision is writing.

A paragraph does not come tumbling out in perfect form the first time you glimpse its need and some of its contents. You (might) get one perfect sentence.

And then in the next draft, you follow the clues and nail another one.

And then in the third draft you have lived an extra day or week and you get another sentence that fits into the groove left by the first two.

And then maybe you show this paragraph to someone you trust and they say, what about?… And you say, Can I use that? And you have your fourth sentence. And if your paragraph was only supposed to have four sentences — you’re done.

To read a longer blog on this process to remind you of what you already know, go here: Four Versions of a Paragraph.

How to Create Emphasis

When I came up in the creative writing world, using italics was considered lazy. Putting certain phrases in ALL CAPS might seem to lend a powerful force, but people just end up feeling like you’re yelling at them. And when you underline a point it comes off as an instruction to the reader that she or he must follow or else.

Italics were invented to save space so that books could be printed more cheaply and thereby reach the masses. Capital letters were designed to indicate proper nouns by using one per word (only) (unless you’re Scottish). And underlining…I don’t know the first use of underlining offhand and I’m not going to stop now and look it up.

Because my point still stands: We create emphasis with word order, with word choice, with punctuation and with sentence length — and not just by varying the font.