Initially you're just trying to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. First drafts are far from perfect, so how do you go about turning your word vomit into gold? How do you make your prose sparkle and pop? That is the topic of this month's Ramble post. My fellow Ramblers will be giving their personal tips on how they refine their drafts into pieces they are proud of. Check out their posts as well and feel free to leave a comment. We love to hear from you!
What do I do to strengthen my writing? I'm glad you asked! This post has forced me to take a closer look at my work to find out. I've discovered a few things about myself which is always exciting for me. I'm going to detail three main questions I end up asking myself as I'm reading through a draft.
HAVE I USED ALL MY SENSES (INCLUDING THE 6th)?
To help draw your reader into your world you need to surround them as completely as they are surrounded in this world. I take a look at the scene and ask myself how it smells, what sounds do my characters hear, what do they see? Is there anything for them to touch or taste? I also ask myself if there is anything in the atmosphere or aura of the scene that my characters would pick up on. A sense of foreboding? Of peace? Are my characters perceptive? I can show that by describing what they do and don't pick up on. After deciding what their senses are perceiving I have to choose which are the most interesting to detail. I also scan to ensure I'm giving all the senses a chance to shine in a balanced way throughout the piece.
HAVE I PAINTED A CLEAR PICTURE?
Have I conveyed the images, feelings, and information I needed/wanted to? After filling up everyone's senses I need to make sure I've said what needed to be said and not got lost in the beauty or minutiae of the scene. I tend to over describe on a first run through. I believe it is to make sure I know what all of the details are as I'm generally a discovery writer. When I go back over my writing I look for areas where I've used imprecise or imperfect language, or described something multiple times as I worked out the best way to describe it. This happens frequently for me as I'm getting my thoughts onto the paper. I have to ask "Have I buried the flow in too much or imprecise description?" I search for those vague words and repetitions and replace them with more exact and concise wording. It is a delicate balance between detail and clarity.
DOES MY DIALOG SOUND NATURAL?
Depending on the piece I may start with this question, but generally I like to ensure the stage is set before I rework my dialog in case something in the scene description would find its way into the conversation. The easiest way to gauge the naturalness of your characters' speech is to read the conversations out loud. Are your characters using phrases and vocabulary that makes sense for them? Do they have their own distinct voices? While you shouldn't skimp on dialog tags and sacrifice clarity, you should strive to make each character's speech unique enough to be able to leave off their names and still be able to identify them. I use this as more of an exercise than a goal for the final product, however.
There are many ways in which you can strengthen your writing and as you go along you'll inevitably discover more and more. These are just the three main areas I like to focus on to increase the clarity and entertainment of my work. What do you look at in your own writing? What do you notice about other people's work? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below!
Until next time: Nanu Nanu!