Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Do You Know About Writing That You've Forgotten?

I follow a ton of writing blogs, always on the lookout for useful tips to increase my writing skills. After having done this for several years, I’ve reached the point where I don’t come across many pieces of advice I haven’t seen before. Occasionally I’ll come across a post that approaches a topic from a different angle, but for the most part, I already know what the blogger is going to say. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of what you already know.

Case in point. Last week I was beating a chapter into submission (I never said my process was elegant), and feeling pretty good about it, at least until I came across a post by David Farland describing how to decide whether a scene is necessary to the story. Among other things, he points out that something needs to have changed by the end of the scene. If a scene can be removed and the story still makes sense, then the scene probably doesn't need to be there in the first place.

Now I’ve heard this before, and I’ve used this technique to tighten up my stories in the past, but as soon as I read that post, I realized one of the scenes I was editing didn’t really progress the story. Back when that scene had originally been written (an embarrassing long time ago), it had been a necessary part of the story, but after multiple revisions, the important parts had either been dropped or moved somewhere else and what remained no longer qualified as a necessary scene. And if I hadn’t been reminded to check my scenes for their worthiness, I never would have thought about checking again.

The moral of the story is this. No matter how much I learn about writing, I’ll always depend upon my critique partners, beta readers, and writing bloggers to remind me of those things I already know.

So what do your beta-readers have to remind you about the most?



  1. Sometimes I think the more we know, the less we know.
    I've had one critique partner bug me for years about using the word 'felt' and yet I still put it in there.

  2. I mostly have my CPs track whether they can follow the beginning of a new novel. They've only read snippets of my previous books, so if they can't follow, I know I need to add more backstory. Sometimes I have to streamline more and save the explanation for later.

  3. Oh goodness, yes. I overwrite EVERYTHING so I often find myself realizing that something that needed to be there at one time is now dead-weight. CUT it goes.

  4. I depend on betas, and critters for so much. But the thing I was reminded of was rising tension. Start too high and there is no where to go. Start too low and I don't even what to read it. Heck, I feel like one of the three bears. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  5. My betas are all different and thankfully so. I like to be reminded that when I'm stuck on deepening a character to do something fun outside the story like a character questionnaire or a normal day in the life of... Those little exercises do help a lot.

  6. Alex makes a good point. Sometimes, we just do what we know we're not supposed to do, anyway. But, I have to be reminded of things that I may not have run into in a long time. I'll never be so knowledgeable that I'll be able to be the high guru of writing fiction, so help will always be needed!

  7. Funny, but I was asking myself that exact question while I read your chapter. That's why I wanted to make sure the spell argument was related to one of the big problems. I'll be interested to see how it ties in (eventually) as well as find out how the headmaster gets out of his latest tight spot (by Christmas, right?).

  8. Excellent post! And those unnecessary scenes are most often "orphaned" in revisions, just as you describe here. They *used* to have a purpose, but in the course of revisions they became unnecessary. You're so used to seeing the scene there, it's hard to imagine the story without it. Taking a break from the manuscript -- or having fresh eyes look at it -- is sometimes necessary for you to recognize what has to come out.

  9. Of course, this is right. The only piece I'll add is that sometimes, the scene is a reaction to action, and that's the progress: That we get to know the character better or s/he grows. I didn't learn that until half way through my writing career!


There was an error in this gadget