Friday, September 19, 2008

Making a Literary Life: Improving Craft

We all have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to craft. Some of us write polished prose in that first draft, but the pacing is a little ho-hum. Others nail characters so well, it's as if they are flesh, blood, and snarling comebacks, but, wait, ground me, where's the setting? This week, at our writers' group meeting, we turned to the subject of writing workshops and reflected on what needs attention with our own writing.

Lisa Marnell
I've been reading Pretties by Scott Westerfeld. He's a master of voice, plain and simple. Pretties, you see, are teens who have had parts of their brains altered (as well as their faces) so they see only happiness in the world. They're the valley-people of this decade, if you will. Their speech reflects their thinking. "Oh, that snow outside is so cold-making!" He's nailed them.

I need to work on revealing internal thought in clever, unobtrusive, non-hitting-the-reader-over-the-head ways.

Amy Mackinnon
Gosh, I don't know -- everything! I want to improve everything. This interview with Ann Patchett is what I keep turning to for guidance as I work on my next book, especially that part about narrative structure. It's all so humbling.

Hannah Roveto
Like Amy, I want to learn more about everything. I've learned a lot from the first MS, of course, and as I look to the second, much of what I want to reach for is in details -- touches of characterization, delicate hints as to threads that build intrigue without bashing the reader over the head or are missed entirely, a reining in of the world I create, a refinement of phrasing. We were talking this week about Karl Iagnemma's class on editing at the Muse and the Marketplace, how he spoke of revision as sandpaper, starting with a rough pass on form and plot, then moving to chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words. I want to have more of that knowledge so that the first draft is more of what it will be than what it could be.

Lynne Griffin
Lynne's at the New England Independent Booksellers Association trade show today. I'll bet next week, she'll be happy to weigh in on the aspects of craft she still wants to learn more about.


Joanne said...

Hannah, yes the beauty is in the details. A turn of a small phrase, done right, can give a reader pause. Honing the craft down to just one right word, that can speak a sentence, is surely art.

Lisa said...

I was up until after 3 a.m. reading "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" because I could not put it down. Now and then, between chapters I surfaced from the fictive dream just to think about how carefully crafted this book is. More than a decade went into this work and it is clear that each scene, paragraph, sentence and word was carefully chosen. There aren't too many books published that have been polished to this kind of sheen. As I work toward the end of a very loose first draft, I'm already looking forward to rewriting, revising and polishing with intent. If I end up burying the whole manuscript under the plum tree in my back yard, it will have been worth it in order to learn the lessons I feel like I'm learning.