For too long we’ve been having a pointless debate about whether or not genre writing is good writing, and whether or not “literary” writing is, in fact, superior to it. I think we can put to bed that question; any writing can be good writing no matter what marketing niche it happens to fall into. Genre is merely the mould; the ingredients, and how they’re assembled, can be as vastly different (and incredibly written) as each author who pours them in. Any kind of writing can be good writing.
Audiences love gripping stories, powerful imagery, and freshly worded phrasing. And now you can get your writing out to readers quickly and without gate keepers. It’s a wonderful time to be an author. And I understand the desire to push work out into the world as fast as possible now the stigma has been largely removed and readers are hungry. Many of you even write fast, well.
But there are just as many of you who, like most writers, need to give your work a little more time, another revision, a bit more care.
And what is revision really? It is to, “re-see,” and go deeper. In early drafts you tell yourself a story; you wander through a dark house fumbling in the dark, discovering the shape of what you find, then naming it. Revision means to pull the sheets off the furniture and engage the reader with your discoveries; to take care with your sentences, thoughtfully craft your images, and write layered characters.
Why should you bother to do that versus just telling a serviceable story? After all, your audience is waiting, slapping palms against thighs impatiently.
Why does careful craft matter?
It matters in the same way preserving nature matters—even when it isn’t obvious what nature “does” for us (please don’t make me lecture!), the very essence of its majesty and presence makes us more than we are without it. Good writing, by which I really just mean writing whose author has paid it attention, weeded it of its aggressive and unsightly bits, fertilized it, and cared for it, enriches the reader. It goes in deeper. It remains after the reader has put it down. It adds value.
Don’t you get tired of the sketched, the hurried, the stereotyped? You can be entertained and enriched at the same time. Doesn’t it insult your intelligence a little to be handed something spoon-fed and watered down? Why would you want to offer that back to your readers?
We live in such a superficial time with very little commercial art that dips below the surface. Wouldn’t you like to be one of the people who dives deeper, opens up new avenues, and explores places unseen?
Even if your speed of writing and publishing is due to the demand of your audience or publisher, this does not mean that it has to be careless.
You can pay attention to your sentences, you can carefully revise
Here are some tips to go deeper without necessarily going slower:
- Variety Show. Your sentences are more than just serviceable units to tell a story; they have rhythm, flow, nuance, thematic resonance. Learning to vary your word choices and sentence length can do much for your pace. Look at your sentences closely when you revise your work. Better yet, read them aloud. Are they repetitive, curt, sloppy? Do you fall into passive voice, repeat verbs, or lean too heavily on adverbs? Notice. Pay attention to your habits. Work to change them up. To cut what’s superfluous, and enhance what feels flat.
- Feel the Feels: Please oh please learn how to demonstrate character emotion. People don’t think “I’m mad;” rather, anger thunders through them like a pent up beast. Sorrow presses a person flat to the earth like a slab of stone. Writer and editor Amy McElroy has a great blog post on how to take your imagery up a notch. Feelings don’t reside in the head alone.
- Make a Change. Plot (or narrative arc) is a design that, through compelling challenges and experiences, demonstrates your characters growing, changing and transforming. If your characters do not change, even in some small way (a change can be as simple as learning the truth and no longer pretending things are the old way, or becoming brave enough to catch the villain, or take the lover) then readers often feel empty at the end.
I’m teaching a Revision Webinar for Writer’s Digest–Revise for Publication–June 26th. Register today! I’ll also be at the Writer’s Digest Novel Intensive in August (15-17) teaching deep scenes and point of view. Would love to see you there.
If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or sign up for my newsletter. Also check out my books: Night Oracle, Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time and, Forged in Grace. And check out the 2nd Annual Plot & Scene Writing Retreat with Martha Alderson at the Mt. Madonna Retreat Center, May 1-3, 2015.
Photo, “Revision” by Maisie Furneaux Flickr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.