Monday, July 30, 2012

Streamlined Writing

I like streamlined things--most of the trains, planes and automobiles I love are streamlined designs. My favorite big cat is the cheetah, and even though I have a horrible fear of them, I'm in awe of the way sharks can cut through the water.

My writing, however, was anything but streamlined when I started--it was downright flabby. I could never resist the urge to write ten sentences when one would do--and my early writing was plagued with excessive narrative that didn't add a thing to the story.

I still struggle with it--and worse yet, I sometimes overcompensate and cut too much out of my writing because I'm terrified of loading my work down with flab.

Over time I've learned (well, I've almost learned) to take certain steps to keep my writing streamlined without overdoing it.

The first step was to understand what kind of writer I am--I'm not a 21st century male version of Jane Austen--and I'm happy to admit it. I want to write tight prose that hammers out the story with a bare minimum of language, and I'm learning to structure my writing that way right from the first draft. That was my early mistake; I overwrote my early first drafts, with the mistaken assumption that I could edit that bloated writing into a workable story or essay. It didn't work--and now I try to do just the opposite. Most of my rewriting now is adding details, and it seems to work better for me.

The second step is to use the dialogue in my story to its fullest extent to tell the story. I think many beginning writers are terrified of dialogue, but I think it's a misplaced fear. Characters can reveal essential elements of the story in a few sentences of dialogue that might be difficult, or even impossible to convey with less than a half page of narrative.  Don't get me wrong--I think narrative has its place, but too often the flab in a story can be found in the narrative. I know that's true for me.

The final step is to keep the story balanced. I described my method for achieving that in an earlier blog, and it really works well for me. I usually get too involved in character development, and it's a constant struggle to pare the character development back so it doesn't overwhelm every other aspect of the writing.

Every word in a story or essay must earn its keep, and I think that's the biggest challenge of all. Language is the writer's best friend, but it is a friend that needs to be reigned in constantly so the story can shine at full brilliance.

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