Monday, June 29, 2020

Don't Get Hung Up On Wording

I sat in on a creative writing workshop last week as an observer. I simply wanted to hear what the writers were focusing on and what they seemed to be missing. In this workshop, they had shared stories with each other and then spent the time providing critiques. What they focused on, with every manuscript was the wording and the phrasing in the writing. They missed the things that will, in the end, prevent the stories from ever being published (unless they just do it themselves).

Now, before I go any further, please understand I am not saying that the words and phrases you use are not important. This part of the writing process IS necessary. However, if you spend your entire time focusing on this, you are missing the point.

As I listened to the writers, they were going on and on about how single phrases had "musical qualities" or "were reminiscent of the writing of Faulkner", or "were amazing uses of parallel language from what you used in chapter 1 and what you used in chapter 5." Personally, I wanted to barf. Don't get me wrong. These authors really were trying, but in the end, they were trying too hard. In fact, one author noted that it had taken him 3 full rewrites of the novel just to get "the feel and the voice right." 

But get this. Another author was writing a children's picture book and was attempting to conjure up imagery and analogies to ancient Eastern philosophy in the phrases she was using. Again, let me say, this was a children's picture book.

These authors could only obsess of the words. Was the writing "pretty?" You bet! Was the writing "flowing off the page like a cascading waterfall in a New England stream during the Spring." Yes, it was. 


Did the story make sense? No. Was there a balance between dialogue and narration? Not quite. Did the characters act and behave like normal people. No! In the children's book, for example, she had two kids who were around 6 or 8 years old and did not know if the thing they were looking at was a deer, a horse or a unicorn. Really? Now, her answer was "she loved using this confusion to show the innocence in the children as they learned to explore their surroundings and imaginations." I don't think so.

There is a bigger issue here and that deals with the time you are spending on "finding the right phrase." Yes, it is important every now and then, but if you are doing this all of the time, your writing speed is just not going to be there. I would also add that I can guarantee that your readers are not lingering over that sentence you spent three days working on in Chapter 5. They have long since moved on.

Let me put it this way. Keep it simple. Let the story tell itself. 

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