Sunday, May 23, 2010

how to write a story (part eleven)

While while driving up and down the Biscay Rd more times than I'd like to count, it occured to me what a crappy road it is, how badly it needs to be paved, and how many frakking pot holes there were. I hate pot holes. My car hates pot holes. Everyone hates pot holes. And whether we're driving or reading none of us like to be interrupted in such jarring fashion.

Pot holes are easy to recognize in a car; you can usually see them assuming you're paying attention. But when you're reading you don't see them until you stumble upon:

a) bad grammar
b) the character who says something that doesn't ring true
c) the all too convenient way out of a particular dilemma 
d) the sentence you have to re-read too many times before you understand it.

As readers, I'm sure we've all experienced these unfortunate reminders that we're reading a story rather than living it. Sadly, there is nothing to be done about it. We didn't write these stories so we can't change them. However, we can eliminate these pot holes from our own work and there are lots of easy and fun ways to do this.

The most obvious and fun way is to read. Read who does it right and who does it poorly. Take notes. Discover characters you feel like you know and hate to leave at the end. How did the author do it? Read some of those how to books. Acquire the tools of the trade. I'd start with a couple of dictionaries (the bigger the better in this case and one older and one newer), a thesaurus, and some foreign language books to start. Then I'd add Sin and Syntax, By Cunning and Craft, The Weekend Novelist, Bird by Bird, Writing Down the Bones, and Writing Fiction. You'll probably want to add a few that have to do with the genre you write in. There's lots more but that's a pretty good foundation.

Try getting a tape player and record yourself reading your story out loud. Notice when you stumble over your own words. Oops. Of course, some us cannot stand the sound of our own voice, which makes having a writing partner or joining some sort of group even more important. Get someone who doesn't know you to critique your query/WIP. Team up with a buddy and exchange work like Sheri (writersally) and I did. Get involved in the writing community at some level. It will be well worth the time spent.

But the most important thing is to keep writing and remember that it doesn't always have to be about something. Write about nothing. Write about your favorite color. Write about the way the light comes in your kitchen window. Is it bright and blinding? Or is it grey and dim? Pick any random thing and write a paragraph about it. Just write.

And avoid the pot holes :)


  1. Great advice. I often try to read my chapters aloud. It helps to hear some of these potholes.

  2. Great advice. I just fixed some major pot holes. Ouch! I always tell my reporters to read their stories out loud, too. On the major enterprise pieces, I usually take them in a conference room and I read their story while they follow, noting on their copy the "potholes." Thanks for the great advice. Love your blog, Buffy


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