Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Big-Picture Writing Errors"

Writers Digest has a great article - Beyond Basic Blunders.

The article mentions a few with examples. And don't all of you grit your teeth at the same time.

Here are the errors:
  • Morning-routine cliché - "rudely awakened", "bleary-eyed" reminds you of anything?
  • Answering-the-phone cliché - no need to expand here
  • The clutter of detail - oh boy. I believe I once explained the whole process of coffee making in three pages...
  • Skip the recitals of ordinary life
  • Don't spell it out - explaining too much and more than once
  • Pass on the preachiness - but why? Preaching is fun!
  • Setting the scene - be visual without too much description - how's that possible? Go find out.
  • Coincidences - avoid too many of them.
My initial reaction when I read this over at Alison Kent's blog was to think that perhaps many writers focus on details and over describe because of plot issues such as a thin plot. Does that make sense?

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redchurch said...

Great link Mel, thanks.

And yeah... I agree this stuff is usally due to thin plot. But then why are writers often so snarky about 'plotting'?

Most of these 'blunders' occur if I use a straight drafting method. I can't help it. Drafting inspires mind-numbing details and rambling. All the boring stuff.

When you haven't thought about what you're going to write, then you just end up writing 'whatever.'

Or maybe that's just me.

But it's why I don't trust the drafting process without a strong game-plan first.

melly said...

Eric, you managed to totally confuse me :)
I thought you were the fiercest advocate to drafting/outlines.
Pray tell me the difference between that and "a strong game-plan"

redchurch said...

I'm an advocate of outlines, but not big on drafting--at least not 'blind-drafting' or whatever you want to call it.

My process is in a constant state of evolution, but... my best current incarnation is this;

1) Outline to death (ie 'treatment')
2) Block out each scene, with ideas - you could call this a kind of narrative storyboarding. Whereas the outline is very, very rough overview of the story itself, the blocking stage is a more detailed logline, or plotline. What happens in each and every scene, why, what for, cool concepts nailed in each scene, mini-thesis, etc.
3) Draft scene-by-scene

To me this is much different than just 'drafting' ie 'First Draft,' 'Second Draft' - the mindless, rote iterative process is frustrating, and a waste of time IMO.

So as I was saying... most of these 'blunders' seem to come from a blind drafting process. Blind-crank a first draft, and you're going to get a lot of these blunders. Editing won't necessarily help either... because editing is usually focused on language and not the refining of ideas. To refine ideas, you have to rewrite. But what if you don't know what ideas to focus on? Then a rewrite is just a "2nd First Draft," isn't it? And you'll be back to generating all these blunders, because you never got down to the nitty gritty of the scenes and ideas.

Keep in mind, when I say 'you' I'm speaking in the general sense, not accusatory. I tend to do that. ;)

But yeah, Basic Blunders...

Kathleen Bolton said...

Totally. I maunder on because I'm avoiding the hard work of making the scene move forward. Sometimes a gem emerges from all the muck...which makes editing that much more important.

Melly said...

Got ya now Eric. I was really confused by what you meant as drafting.
That's some process you've got there. If it works, it works!

Oh, Kathleen, I'm so with you there. Like I said, a three (3!) page description of coffee making. Sigh.

Georganna Hancock said...

When I caught the Writer's Digest article, I immediately emailed it to a client caught up in cliches. I think it's great to extend the notion of a cliche from a word or phrase to whole scenes. The author is so right, that these elements ARE hackneyed and overused. Writing is much richer without them. Readers (usually) have keen imaginations that fill in the blanks without the writer's help needed.

Melly said...

This article was good on so many level, Georganna. I completely agree with your last point. Now if only I could remember it when I write ;)

Anonymous said...

If you want more great advice like the kind in "Beyond Basic Blunders," be sure to check out the book it was excerpted from: WRITING FOR THE SOUL by Jerry B. Jenkins. (From Writer's Digest Books)