When I moved into my home six years ago, my husband and I went to our local LDS temple. We didn’t know quite how to get there, and we ended up calling someone who didn’t live nearby to give us directions. Because we knew that route, we took it on each visit for the next four years. On a whim, I tried another route one day—and cut the trip by a third.
Frequently when I get critiqued or judged, I get defensive of my work. Granted, all suggestions won’t work for your story, you know your story best, and sometimes critique partners can be just plain toxic. But even bad advice can make our story better when it makes us take another look at our story with a critical eye, when we recognize that just because we wrote it that way, it might not be the best way.
I liked what Katie Ganshert said about this recently about developing skills and editing as an evocative writer:
I want to be an evocative writer. I want to transport my readers into the story. I want to make them feel what the characters are feeling. Which means I spend a lot of time trying to imagine what something feels like, and then trying to figure out how to translate those feelings into words.
Which is exactly what I tried to do when my hero touched my heroine’s arm for the first time. I sat in my chair and I tapped my chin and I tried to think, “What does this feel like? And how can I write this feeling in a fresh way?” . . .
So . . . I wrote: Something warm spread through her arm, as if she’d dipped her elbow into a bowl of hot pudding. . . .
Shannon [her editor] gave me a call and as we were talking she said, “You’re right. That is what it feels like. But elbows in pudding are not appetizing to people. It’s warm, but it’s messy and makes a person feel like they need a paper towel to wipe off their elbow. So what else does it feel like?”
Something in my brain started to click.
She went on to explain that just because a line isn’t working doesn’t mean I’m supposed to delete it. In fact, Shannon didn’t want me to delete it. She wanted me to make the line work. To keep the feeling intact using different imagery. . . .
Pinpointing how something feels is important. But using the right imagery to evoke those feelings is equally important.
This weekend I was looking through some older posts and I came across one from January about gesture crutches. Both of these posts made me think about the same fact:
Just because you wrote it one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way. We should always consider if there’s a better way to say what we’re saying.
I see people defend poor writing by saying it’s their character’s voice. Honestly, I think a lot of the time what they’re really thinking is that “I wrote it that way, so it’s right.”
Maybe. But could you write it better? Could your character say it better? If your character got another chance (or ten) to look at it over again and revise it (for publication), is that how he’d still say it? No, he may not make it poetic and beautiful and use words and images he doesn’t know, but that doesn’t mean he’d leave a mushy sentence there and allow it to undercut his meaning or make him boring and ordinary—and neither should you.
Because why else would we edit? Why wouldn’t we just submit first drafts and companies publish first drafts? Because there’s a better way to say it. And I think (and hope) self-publishing will ride out the same way: you’ll be able to tell who edits and who slaps their first drafts on the market, who says “I wrote it that way, so it’s right” and who says, “I did write it that way, but maybe there’s a better way to say it.”
So, can you say it better?
What do you think? What lessons have you learned from revision (or just thinking about it?)?
Map image courtesy of The Journey 1972 (South America “addicted”)