Those of you who know me will attest to the fact that I’m a bit slow. Though it applies, I’m not talking about my jogging speed. For some reason it takes me a while to figure things out that others pick up right away.
For example, I was one of the last people to figure out that I was gay. It’s true. Despite mountains of evidence, I was twenty-one years old before I realized what practically everyone else knew by the time I was sixteen or seventeen.
Some of this slowness is a result of having learned the wrong lessons earlier. Right or wrong, once I get something in my head, it takes quite a lot to change my mind. I believe this explains my tardiness to the gay table. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Part of my slowness is that I’m an experiential learner. In other words, I tend to learn by doing. When faced with something new, I just jump in and learn as I go. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
I’m not one to read instructions. Hence my efforts to populate various and sundry bodies of water with sea monkeys when I was a kid failed miserably. By the time I got around to reading the directions, the contents of the envelope had been sprinkled bit by bit in dozens of neighborhood pools, streams, and fountains.
Writing is one of those things you need to learn by doing. Yes, training is important. But no matter how many classes you take or books on writing you read, you just have to do it to really learn how.
I’ve just about finished writing my first novel. The writer’s group has critiqued all but the last few chapters, which they’ll receive later this week for our December 10 meeting. Though I keep making many of the same mistakes over and over again, I have really learned a lot from them about writing fiction.
Now that I’m trying to finish the book, I’ve shared the full manuscript with several friends, including a few members of the writer’s group. Their comments and suggestions have been extremely helpful. In fact, over the weekend I finally learned one of the most important lessons–one the group has been pounding into my thick skull from the beginning.
Rather than showing what happens through dialogue and action, I have a tendency to tell what happened. I’ve learned not to do this with major moments–mostly. But as I try to make it to the next critical scene, I have a particular fondness for chapters that summarize what has happened since the last big scene.
This tendency to tell rather than show is more important than it sounds. Telling takes the reader out of the action and slows the pace of the story. It’s about things that happened when the reader wasn’t around. Instead of drawing them into the story, telling makes them feel left out.
You probably get this already. Being a slow learner, I didn’t really understand it until this weekend. Now that I understand the difference, fixing “telling” parts of the book is much easier and far less frustrating.
Another big problem is that I feel the need to keep the reader informed of everything that happens. You don’t need to know that Josh brushed his teeth and went to bed, how he got to work, or what was said to wrap up a phone conversation. I’m getting better about leaving out these insignificant details, but the group still catches quite a few.
The other challenge I have is knowing when to stop. The writer’s group almost always cuts at least the last paragraph of the chapters I write. Sometimes they want me to cut most of a chapter because it does nothing to advance the story. Again, I’m getting better about knowing when to stop, but it’s still sometimes a problem.
Learning as much as I have in the process of writing Addicted is really going to pay off when I start working on revisions to Glass Houses. Hopefully, by the time that’s done, I’ll be ready to start working on my next novel, right here in…
My Glass House