Thursday, October 04, 2007

Telling Write From Wrong (Part 11)

Style Depends On How You Express Yourself

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON


Marlayna, who writes the blog It Is The Little Things, has done it tough today, so please visit her and show her that you care. She emailed me a couple of days ago to say: ``So here I thought I was done with my manuscript (58,000 words), and sent it to a fellow blogger, who reviewed it and came back with some excellent points, mainly: 1) Why do I want to care about this character and 2) I need more detail.’’

Her big issue is: ``Now I'm looking at it and thinking it's all wrong. Yet it is what it is. It's written from the heart, and changing it will ruin it entirely.’’

It's always valuable to get someone else's opinion on a manuscript. But it's also really important to sift through that feedback and only take what is important and relevant to you.

At first it can be rather confronting to be told that a labour of love has to be re-written or must have segments added or deleted. Generally, all advice is good advice - but you have to choose what to follow and what to ignore. You and your instinct are the best judge of that.

Walk away from your manuscript for a day or two. Concentrate on other things. Then carefully assess whether (in your specific case) more detail is needed in terms of characterisation or description. If you honestly feel it'll add value to the book, then go ahead and do it. If not, follow your instincts and believe in the fact that you have written from your heart and produced the best possible manuscript.

But here’s my take on your writing. I haven’t seen your manuscript, but I’ve followed your blog closely enough and for long enough to realise that you write with great passion, power and feeling. You have the ability to carry your readers along with any of your posts. I’m sure this crucial ability, so evident in short bursts of writing on a blog, will be reflected in long chapters and a full-length book.

I’ve been a professional editor for 30 years and quite honestly, I would not make major changes in anything you’ve written so far. The key, for me, is that any writer should produce work from the heart. That way, writing becomes totally instinctive. That’s the sort of writing that shouldn’t really be tampered with.

12 comments:

Les Becker said...

I agree with your advice on this one, David. So many of us are new or unpublished writers. If it starts to feel like "work" before we can look forward to a paycheck... well, it's hard enough sometimes just to keep the dream before us, isn't it?

Helena said...

I'm just a few hours away from the end of a creative writing course that counts as a fifth towards my degree.

It's a correspondence course and the feedback has been minimal- luck fo the draw as what tutor you get.

Well, all the way through the 9 month course he's been coming back to me saying 'more detail' and 'this doesn't work' and 'I don't get this metaphor' and with the poetry, 'too overt'.

The reason he rose to the upper half of my list of people I'd like to see take a job washing poo out of a hippo's arse is his assumption that my word choices were flippant, unthought out, even WRONG.

I think a good tutor- and a good critic- should start from asking himself- and maybe asking the writer, too- why did you choose this way of describing this? What effect did you want here? Was there a reason why you chose not to describe this person's appearance? etc etc.

Studying applied linguistics a few years ago left me believing that all the words a person uses are selected for a meaning or an affect. It might not be in their head till the words come out on the paper. But an affect is madeby them, and it annoys me that critics assume that the affect made is 'wrong' or not want the author wanted. They presume to know better the author's intentions, putting their preferences for what THEY'D like to see first.

My marks have been in the 80s throughout, so I'm not saying this through sour grapes. I've witnessed my tutor take someone's writing apart, to the point where they don't want to write any more. Their writing was great. It was their confidence that was low.

Don't assume that a critic, tutor or editor is right. Be willing to question your work, be open to the possibilty that it can be improved, reworked, written a different way. But don't ever presume that you're unpublished therefore you are wrong.

So he wants more detail. Is this because it is needed, or is it because he is reading your work differently to how you want it to stand?

I'm reading a light novel at the mo, a whodunnit by Ruth Rendall. I was a third of the way through before she threw in a description of what the protagonists looked like. Can't imagine that getting past my tutor. But it worked. THat's the point. Sometimes breaking the 'rules' makes for better reading.

And remember, "The Eagle Has Landed" was rejected 39 times!

Loving Annie said...

Good Wednesday evening to you, David !

Thank you for coming by my blog, and leaving the nice comment ! I appreciate it !

I did not take the picture of the swan - I get my graphics (most of them) from a subscription to Shutterstock.

It IS a lovely picture, though, ins't it ? And I thought went perfectly with the post.

In reading your post, I think it is so important to be true to your own instincts.

If you think something sings, if every instinct in you says "this is good, really really good", if it feels powerful and right... then be careful who else's advice you listen to that tells you otherwise.

Everyone has a persepctive and a different take on things.

It would have been a shame had Margaret Mitchell listened to anyone telling her to change something in Gone With The Wind. Or Ayn Rand changed Atlas Shrugged... Okay, so I'm picking two literary giants, but you get the idea...

Editors who believe in you are one thing. Critics are another. Choose carefully - your writing is a piece of your soul. Heed truth where it resonates in your gut...

If something doesn't sell, that isn't the same thing as saying "I loved what I did"... And I believe in it, maybe the timing is just not right yet...

Passion wins in the end, if it is genuine and good.

That said, not everyone has talent... But some do... And then adding value will make sense.

Loving Annie

Annie said...

A good editor, I think, helps hone the story and clean up the grammar, making the work a little clearer but leaving the uniqueness of the author to shine through.

gs said...

hello david
marlayana could not have got better advice.you are absolutely right when you say that one must ultimately go by one's instinct.after having objectively analysed a few feedbacks and made whatever changes are required in the manuscript,marylana has to take the call.i hope she gets over her dilemma soon.

ozlady said...

I think there is one important part of David's original post to note, as well as another critical consideration when writing: the purpose/audience.

David quotes Marlayna: "and sent it to a fellow blogger, who reviewed it..."

It is key to note that when we read, we like to read different things - and looking at any individual's reading list (including that of the aforementioned 'fellow blogger') will probably tell you the sort of things that they like in the books that they read.

In my opinion, as a sometimes technical writer, the purpose of the writing and the audience is another consideration.

This applies in technical writing, but it might also apply in fiction (David - your thoughts?). Do you start out writing for yourself, or trying to write a best-seller? Obviously, there are some 'templates' or styles that work better than others. Do you need to consider this if you are aiming to get published?

This is just my two-cents, coming from a completely different perspective, as, if you are writing a book don't you want people to enjoy reading it? How much should/would it sway you?

Anonymous said...
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it's the little things... said...

What a long, strange trip it's been to sift through anonymous' comment during an hour of insomnia.
I think I'm tired now!

But I want to thank you David and the commenters for your words. My instinct is to write in the way that feels natural to me, as many of you have echoed.

We each bring our own unique style to our stories. I love Ayn Rand, but have never made it through a Vonnegut book. I read War and Peace but can't tolerate most military mentions.

I heard tonite that it took Salinger 13 to write Catcher in The Rye. I wondered how many times he must have labored over each sentence until it was honed to perfection?

Anyway, thanks again. You all are the greatest!

it's the little things... said...

That's thirteen YEARS by the way for Salinger...

Anne said...

David,
Thanks for this great post.

I think writers should get feedback from at least three people. If they all have the same problem with your manuscript, you probably have that problem and need to address it.

Helena, I feel for you. I had a mentor in a writer's program who was really hard on me. He was kind of Old School and pushed me to do things that weren't the way I did them. (He wouldn't let students write in first person, for example.) It was hard and I often felt like a failure. But guess what? It was a wonderful learning experience. He was never unkind and it was never personal, but he didn't praise me much, either. The work he forced out of me is some of my best, and I am grateful that I had the experience of having to stretch myself. I feel like I came away with additional skills, which I guess is the point of enrolling in the first place. Good luck! It's just one man's opinion.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Proffering up what you have written places you in a very vulnerable position, it's so easy to be crushed by anothers critism. I feel so sad this "fellow blogger" has disheartened her like this. It is only one opinion, the next may well totally disagree with that. I was foolish enough after having already found an agent who had expressed an interest in my book, to send a few chapters off to some others, just to see what came back. I wish I had quit whilst I was ahead! The "advice" and rejections I've received has made me question if I have any writing ability at all - and yet, someone still likes it, and is considering it a possibility for publication. One mans meat, eh?

Kirti said...

great advice...I often think works are completely ruined when editors get their hands on it...it no longer sounds like the person who wrote the piece!