Friday, 29 January 2010

Confess Your (Writing) Sins

Good morning Racers and guests. Please excuse my typing, I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and my fingers are squished into a fetching elastic sheath.  Would you mind pouring your own coffee or tea?

This morning, I want to have a chat about our past or present writing sins. 

When I started writing (rather than talking and thinking about writing), all I could focus on was finishing my first draft. I didn't think about any errors I might be making. And perhaps that's as it should be or I’d have given up after the first chapter. But a bit further down the road, I asked for feedback and was pretty shocked by how much I had to learn.  In fact the more I write, the more I find there is to learn.

Here are some of my writing sins:

       1.  Overwriting. Having been told that my novel read more like a script than a book, I tried to add what I believed to be much needed detail, such as: ‘Silver medals like mirrors in the moonlight. Dark eyes unfathomable in a face hardened by war…’ Oh dear.
But how pleased I was with my metaphors, my similes and well, my very pretty words.
Nicola Moran covers overwriting brilliantly on her blog:
2.  Not thinking about my reader – if I ever got one.  I wrote what I liked, what made me feel good, amusing little happenings in my life which I thought others would find enthralling. Nothing wrong with raiding my past, but it still had to interest more people than my mother.

3.   Transitional scenes.  Another writer told me I tended to jump cut too much, so I re-wrote and dutifully had my poor protagonist cleaning her teeth, getting in her car, driving, getting out of her car. You get the picture.  I was so worried about this, I asked the good people on the Literary Lab blog for their advice.  Scroll down their page to see my post here:

4.  Then there's the plot - or lack of it. I had lots of action actions scenes but few of them related to the previous scene.  I simply didn't get that what happens in one scene must link or build into the next scene's 'story'.

5.  Characters:  Now here's something I really struggle with. Most websites, books and writing tutors, recommend you ask your characters questions to discover who they really are. This doesn't work for me. How can you know the answers before you know your characters?  Emma Darwin blogs about this here:
I like her reasoning. 

I could go on adding to my list of writing sins but what about you?
Do you, or did you, have any writing sins?  Can you tell us about them so we can have a good laugh, learn how you handle them?

Finally, thank you to Inky Girl for permission to use one of her cartoons. She has wonderful website you might like to visit. 

Have a good weekend. 



Leatherdykeuk said...

Some great links Fia.

Writing problems? Apart from not yet finding an agent (and being a pussy about handling rejection, still) I'm rubbish at description. I get bored by it so I don't write it. I've written seven Harold and Jasfoup novels and not once have I described either character in enough detail for anyone to pin down a definitive picture of them. It's all in the head of the reader.

Flowerpot said...

My sins are far too numerous to mention, but some of the ones I've tried to work hard at are:- getting to know my characters inside out; showing not telling (why is this so much more difficult than it sounds); getting the balance between description and dialogue - like Fia I never used to like description but I do now. Also trying to make sure my characters are feisty enough yet believable. Researching what the market wants - I could go on and on but I'd better stop now!

JJ Beattie said...

I am chuckling at some of your sins, Fia, because several of them are mine too.

I have a tendency to mistrust my reader by overegging things and also to direct each movement of my characters... I think because I see it in my head and of course because I'm a control freak.

I'm very unsure of what we should learn in dialogue and when I should be writing narrative. Can't work that out at all.

Fia said...

Leatherdydkeuk - I need to visit Harold and Jasfoup again. I love them. But for months now, I've been obsessed with re-writing. All I've got for it is the stupid carpal tunnel thing.

I have a clear picture of Harold and Jasfoup in my head from their dialogue.

Flowerpot - I agree about showing not telling but I am now getting more confident about telling where telling works better. I think.

JJ - If we can see our 'sins' it must make it easier to edit them out? I think we all go through the overegging, wanting to save the reader confusion when really he wants to work it out on his own.

About narrative and dialogue. What I'm planning to do is looking for scenes that are necessary to the plot but could be written simply as narrative because they aren't interesting in their own right. For instance, my driving scenes. I can have my girl slam the front door and then be mid dialogue in her friend's house. Unless she runs over the love of her life. Have to keep it in then:)

Lane said...

Ah sins. Forgive me but there are many.

Describing interiors. I must remember that less is more in that department. If I mention the colour of someone's walls, that's fine if it says something about the character. But their doors, baseboards and light fittings ... no, no.

Describing the weather. Ditto.

Thoughtless use of silly expressions - 'throwing on clothes', 'gritting teeth'. The list is long.

Far too much internal monologue. I had one character walking along the beach deep in thought so often that it resembled a pastiche of Father Ted's 'second best priest in the country' scene. Cut, cut, cut.

Skimming over, or totally omitting, practicalities. As a reader, I always want to know how a character manages to put bread on the table and am very quick to judge if things don't add up. So why can't I remember that with my own 'darlings'?

Thanks for the very necessary reminder of these sins Fia. A confession always feels good. Do we have to do penance though?:-)

Debs said...

Writing problems? Ah, now where to begin?

Head-hopping was something I did quite a lot of in my first draft; my characters drinking copious cups of tea; far too many adjectives; as well as most of the ones you mention in your post.

I agree that the more learn about writing, the more I realize there is to learn.

Anonymous said...

Fia, you might find this book useful. I did!

Ellie said...

I think my biggest sin is to forget that I'm making it up! This might sound strange, but as a a medical writer I spend my days having to write something that other people are also working on, and we all have to agree (and my opinion is usually pretty unimportant). So when I'm working on fiction, I have a tendency to forget that if something doesn't work, I can change it! Sounds so silly (and easy to fix) when I say it now, but the hours I've spent puzzling...

Serendipity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Serendipity said...

Sins! So many so many!

My biggest one at the moment is actually being scared of my book! I'm using zillions of excuses not to knuckle down and just get on with it - I keep telling myself that something is better than nothing but somehow my bum does not seem to adhere to my desk chair! Having been a short story writer for a long time the whole challenge of a novel and all those interwoven characters ties me in knots but I am determined - I mean no-one is forcing me to do this... actually perhaps that's what I need! Thumb screw anyone!? ;-)

Fia said...

Lane - 'Father Ted's 'second best priest in the country' scene. Cut, cut, cut.'

This made me laugh out loud (trying not to use text speak).

The thing is if you write a Sin well enough, you can get away with it. Well, perhaps more in literay novels. The Shipping News for example. Love that book but sadly I can't write like that.

As for penances. You've given me an idea for next week's coffee post. Brace yourself.

Debs - Me too. In life we are always drinking cups of coffee but then most of the time, life is a bit samey I guess.

Captain - Thank you. You're a star. Can I ask, why I couldn't go back and edit my post? I did check it - honest - but still some typos, missed words etc.

Ellie - I love reading anything medical. Last night's Silent Witness. Wow.

Serendipity - Short stories aren't easy. Nothing's easy in writing, but at least you can sort of manage it in your mind but a big, wobbly novel...

Rowan Coleman said...

Fia - all of your sins are my sins too. But mostly leading myself astray down a little side alley that i find interesting but which does nothing to advance the plot. I have to watch out for that all the bloomin time!

p.s you will find a review for my new YA book (written under a new name!) here - heck it out if you have time.

sheepish said...

Thanks for the links always pleased with another excuse not to start the 2nd draft. My biggest sin is not believing that anything I have written can have any worth, and as I haven't had the b***s to show it to anyone yet I may never know. One of these days 'sigh'. Then I will probably discover a load more sins.

Anonymous said...

Fia: To edit your post, try the following:

* Click the title of your post, so as to display only that post (and it's comments).
* Scroll down to the bottom of the article, just before the comments begin.
* Click the little pencil icon before the labels list.
* Make your changes.
* Click "publish post".

I hope this helps.

Fia said...

Rowan - that's a fab review. I'm sure it will fly off the shelves.

Sheepish - Show someone. Bet you're pleasently surprised.

Captain - Thanks, that usually works but I think it's the graphic slowing down the page. It just won't load...

HelenMHunt said...

My writing sins really are too numerous to mention.

Notable ones are:
overuse of inappropriate punctuation especially ellipses and exclamation marks; so much unattributed dialogue that even I don't know who's supposed to be saying what; not giving any clues about what people look like or what they are doing.

But my biggest failing - certainly as far as the novel goes - is not having done any planning at all. I am never doing that again. Editing it is a continuing nightmare.

L-Plate Author said...

I'm with Rachel on description, I'm useless at it and have to put it in on second draft, when I'm in editing mode.

And I'm with Helen on planning. The words are tumbling out of me at the moment because I plan four or five points in each chapter and write as I go along. So I know what I am to write and I set out to write a thousand words each time I sit down. They can be drivel but they can always be edited at a later date.

When I first started, I think, for me, that was what slowed me down. But I didn't know that at the time. I learned that as I went along. So really I have no excuse anymore, although I do tend to find a lot along the way...

Great post Fia, some really good links x

Denise said...

Ouch on the carpal tunnel. I had to switch mouse hands a few years ago because of sore tendons, and live in fear of it happening to the other hand. Hope it fades soon.

Ooh, where to start with mine. Thinking that writing in the first person means I have to stay with my character whilst she chews her food, puts her socks on, spreads butter on her toast... Exciting stuff. Even more fun now that I'm swapping it to 3rd.

Just thinking, that in just a moment, if she could just manage to do it, she would have just made it. But only just.

Not describing anything!

Not forgetting my ;;;;;;;;;; habit.

I could list all day I fear. Very useful links.

LilyS said...

Great post and I love Inky Girl!

I don't even want to think about my writing sins as it will be tomorrow by the time I finish. Here are just a few:

1. typos
2. making stuff up - i know its fiction but I even make the fiction stuff up (make sense?)
3. not writing at all (the first draft is finished but getting dusty)
4. not being confident in what i write even when I don't commit the first 3 sins.
5. Confusing my reader. I am clearly not easily confused by myself because I know what I mean but I need to rememember that others don't. Oh the genius of a writing group!

Fia said...

Helenh - hands up to everything you've said. Although I have developed a pathological hatred of exclaimation marks as they make me feel I'm being shouted at!!!!

I have no trouble reading and enjoying (muchly) your work though:)

L-Plate - Love the five points per chapter idea. Up until now, I've only worked in scenes and that can get as difficult as no planning at all. Just too many to cope with.

Denise - You had it too? It does make you concentrate on how you use the computer doesn' it? Facebook etc, will have to go on hold now which made not be a bad thing.

I read somewhere, it's worth sorting your scenes out into 'summary' and 'action' and trying to get a balance. I had a lot of interior dialogue which I've tried to cut down. You need some don't you? Say, yes.

Lily - You are funny:) I know exactly what you mean as I could write a book of writing faults. Hang on, someone's already done it. 'How Not to Get Published' It's brilliant. Have you read it?

liz fenwick said...

Brilliant post Fia and sorry to coming late but traveling again....

Sins - oh so many. The ones I'm working on the at the moment are - repetion and conflict. I hate conflict in real life and do everything to avoid it but it's so necessary in writing so I really have go let go and give it to my characters which I hate doing. Clearly I am far too nice to them.

CC Devine said...

Ooh, I've been known to do a bit of telling rather than showing and I'm fond of certain adjectives or phases and just know that my ms is riddled with them so the next stage is to go through it with a fine toothcomb.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Father (and Fia), forgive me ... where to begin. Biggest sin at all is not writing, full stop at the moment. It's been weeks since my last confession ... Thank you, great post, and a much needed kick up the backside. I've just found out we're moving to the Middle East and writing has been the last thing on my mind. So, is it lines or Hail Marys? x

Fia said...

Liz - I can understand your reluctance to cause trouble for your characters. Can you pretend they've left empty milk bottles in the fridge or ripped you off in the garage?

CC - Ha! And do lend my the comb afterwords won't you?

Kate - I could get used to taking confession - the power. And don't remind me of lines. Weren't they grim?

Thank you everyone, for sharing your 'sins'.

Karen said...

Very late to this Fia, but my sin is not fleshing out my characters enough - making them a bit pantomimey.

I keep studying our customers in the library now, making mental notes of their characteristics, and I think it's helping!

I've had a few strange looks though.

Annieye said...

I'm so late (but I was sure I'd posted - I thought about it anyway.

My writing sin is that my writing is all or nothing. I either go at it like a mad thing, or I don't write anything at all. I have to be in the right frame of mind with my characters all leaning over my shoulder, vying for attention.