As a critique partner, one of our jobs is to mark the sentences or phrases that stop us in our tracks and pull us out of the story. In most cases, those are big No-No’s that should be stricken from the manuscript.
As a reader and aspiring author, I strongly believe it’s still important to highlight sentences that stop you in your tracks, but they should be the ones that you appreciate for their wit, humor, how they intrigued you to read more, or how they described something perfectly. Be sure to log them into a journal, a note pad, or scratch paper that you can look at after you’ve gathered 10 or so. My suggestion would be to gather them from different sources, at least 3 or 4 different books.
Simply because once you look at that list again, you’ll start to see a pattern. You should be able to pick out what precisely attracted your attention. It could be the cadence of the sentence, the use of metaphor or simile; whatever it was that gave you pause.
Create writing exercises based on those phrases. Describe a character in a similar manner, but with your own voice to it. Start a chapter using the same type of sentence cadence. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you copy anyone. I’m saying that by recognizing what you like about other author’s voice, you can refine your own.
Here are examples of a few that I grabbed:
Now that… was a cure for constipation
She has Little Sister Radar. She knows exactly when I’m busy, and that’s when she pounces.
Poor Reeves. She looked as comfortable as if she was standing naked in front of her history class giving a report on the Salem Witch Trials using her own body as a visual aid to all of the tortures.
…understanding took root and grew limbs…
The sharpness of my sympathy almost cut my heart into shreds
He said that we needed to get to know each other better, so he started to throw out details as if they were bullets…and I was the target.
The virus was a knife to my face, carving away at my cheeks, sharpening my chin, thinning my nose.
I didn’t need him to buy my lies. I just needed him to rent them for a while.
Can you see a pattern to what I’ve picked out? Even if you don’t, that’s ok, I do. ; ) Now start your own list!
It can be great fun – perusing through various blogs and search engines to find just the right tidbit of information to make your plot lines and characterization become real and satisfying.
Or, it can be the bane of your existence.
And that’s kind of what I’m feeling right now with my latest manuscript. Through excellent critique partners – both pubbed and unpubbed, I have found out that within my Victorian novel, there’s some question as to my use of Guardianship Laws.
Thus, I went about, in my usual manner and Googled “Victorian Guardianship Laws.”
To my dismay, there isn’t much information out there that was wholly useful. Yes – Google did it’s job by spitting out all the websites that specifically say, “Victorian Guardianship Laws,” plus all the other crazy information that comes with it. But none of the first few pages actually dealt with the Victorian era.
Argh!!! What do you do when Google fails you????
Luckily for me – I belong to an online historical chapter called the Beau Monde (www.thebeaumonde.com) where they have an excellent loop where I asked my question, even though it wasn’t specifically on the time period of the chapter (which is the Regency) but they gave me something important . . . another place to look.
So – now I am going back to Google, BUT I am going to Google Books and I’m going to do select my specific time period and away I go. Wish me luck.
Just like with my writing, I am “pants-ing” my way through my first blog. I found a great quote that really goes along with that mentality.
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights. But you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
I’m not sure how many of you out there are plotters versus pantsers with regard to writing, but that quote made me feel just a little bit better.
The reason why I even need this type of affirmation is because as a writer, the natural question that people ask me is: What’s your book about?”
“Uh, well . . .it’s about …”
I have the gist of it, but they are really just tent poles of ideas for major plot points. And my characters seem to take over from there. I’m thinking that there might be others like me out there. If so, please let me know!