9.14.2010

A writing lesson

A story I wrote was recently accepted for one of the Chicken Soup books, and while gratifying, the real 'meat' of this experience was what I learned about writing. 

I wrote this story a number of years ago, had it rejected by a magazine, and filed it away.  When I began to reconsider it for the CS book, I saw that it needed major rework on many fronts.  It was 500 words too long for their needs.  I was guilty of two major no-no's in writing:  writing passively instead of actively (too many "was's"--I had six in one paragraph!), and telling instead of showing.

But the real problem showed up when I faced the daunting task of cutting 500 words.  That's a whole page of typewritten material, double-spaced.  And since this was a true, personal story, I just couldn't see what I could cut without damaging the flow and interest of the story.

So I went to work with some experimental slicing and dicing.  What gradually became apparent was a more subtle problem inexperienced writers have, that of having too much 'stuff' in the story that distracts from the main point.  It could be other sub-stories, rabbit-trail descriptions, or events that don't really add to the story.

I had to ask myself, what story am I really trying to tell here?  When I answered that question, I saw that two other incidents I had included could be taken out without impacting the story.  In fact, by doing that and tightening up some of the "and then I's...", it gave a much greater dramatic punch to the actual story I was trying to tell.  And 500 words thankfully disappeared.

Simplicity.

That's the key word here.  Tell one thing in one story.  Enlarge upon it, enrich the descriptions and word use, add some metaphors and similies, using vivid verbs, and you have a compelling read.  If you're a word-lover, it's hard to submit to the maxim, "less is more," but in this case it's true.

My dad is a landscape painter by profession, and he has preached this for years.  "Simplicity!"  He taught me early on that a really good painting is not one that has every jot and tittle of detail (we have cameras for that), but rather simple strokes in bold colors, clean composition balance, and focus on one main thing.  Funny how that parallels writing--and life.

Well, it was a terrific experience and one that will make me a better writer, hopefully. 

Simplicity!

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Congratulations! That is a great accomplishment, and you learned so much. I also something once for a homeschooling magazine. Like your story, my article was wayyy to long, and actually I embarrassed myself by sending it in too soon. It needed work. Thanks for the tips. I don't know if I'll ever try that again but if I do, I know where to look for help. :)

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  2. That IS so cool! Yes, cutting down to the "meat" is often difficult. So far, I've only had some articles published in Crosswalk.com's Homeschool Encouragement section, but I hope to publish my multi-sensory writing curriculum soon!!!!
    Be blessed!
    :)Michelle

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