Friday, March 05, 2010

Chop Shop

Don't explain why it works; explain how you use it.
~Steven Brust
When is it too much?

When is too much cutting during revision, too much? Yesterday we talked about how important revision is, whether a short story, a poem or a novel; whether it is fiction or non-fiction.  But is there a point where you chop it to pieces, then read your work and wonder, “Who wrote this?”

After you’ve cut out too many adverbs and adjectives, you’ll move on to the modifiers and prepositions and then your left with, gibberish? You can’t cut a piece to bits. You need to keep the voice that you, the writer of the work, intended.

Around the writing circles, questions are asked and sometimes I need more than a brief email to say, “Don’t cut the dickens out of it! A revision is fixing what is broke, not tearing a piece up only to try and put it back together again.”

We can not dismantle our work of art and then try to re-form it. That is like painting over an already dried painting. You’ll see right through. You’ll see something magical underneath but facing you is abstract nothingness at the surface.

This is why it is so important to have others read what you’ve written. Okay, lets say you’ve written your piece, have let it settled and came back to it to revise. Does it read the same? Did you keep the vein of your story? Did the voice come out as you intended?
If you answered yes to all three questions, you’re on the right track.

If you’ve answered no to one of the questions, then you may have chopped too much off. This is where a writing group comes in handy. You put it out there and LISTEN to their advice and critique! If they say, “You know, this story just didn’t work for me. There were some inconsistencies, and you lost the flow here, at such and such a place.” Then you as a writer have to rethink what they are picking up on. Like a mental telepathy, you need to weed out the good crit with the bad.

The next person might say, “I loved this story, you’re an awesome writer.” Now honestly, is that what you wanted to hear? You may have wanted that stroking of your ego, but guess what, it isn’t HELPING you find out what the last person meant! Sure you want to hear you’re great, loved it, but ask, what did you like? What worked for you?

Announce your uncertainties of where you think you might have missed the boat and ask if they picked up on that too. Now take all the crits you have gathered together, and think really hard on who was right and what works for YOU as a writer when revising your artwork.

Notice how I call writers artists all the time? That is what I think we are. We create masterpieces of fine art. We’re not butchers, so don’t chop your piece up until it is no longer the art that you intended, okay?



Stormcrow said...

And don't forget Mr. King's sacred formula, Second draft = First draft - 10%

Doreen McGettigan said...

I chopped and now i am busy un- chopping. You are exactly right it was not the story i intended it to be which happens to be my story so I needed to write it the way I think; I used to write features for a newspaper so I was always telling someone elses was a lot easier writing their thoughts..Every one I gave the book to to read just said this is great..they knew the story..I challenged myself to find 20 people that had no prior knowledge..their critique was priceless to me..

joni said...

Great Doreen!

And I bet they all said it was great too? Or did they give an honest critique to help you complete the story?
Not that your story isn't great, I'm just saying, as a writer, we are so hard pressed to find someone who will say, "Tweak this, rework that."
That's what we need to help us along. Right?

Keep at it!!!


June said...

You're so right, Joni -- getting feedback to others is important to writers. Knowing when a piece is "done" is something, I believe, which happens with experience.

Take care,

joni said...

Experience...hmm, now where do I get THAT? (kidding)

Words of an experienced writer, thanks June. :-)