Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Way of the Stiletto

Self-editing, many say, is one of the most valuable skills a writer may and must acquire - to coldly go beyond the feverish passion of composition and creation and learn the Way of the Stiletto.
(A fitting word, she added as an aside, seeming related to both stylus and style.)
Let's ignore for the moment- with all due respect - the details as it were: vagaries of spelling, grammar, a dissipation of adjectives, abhorrent adverbs acting like wens on the skin of dialogue, and other minor pimples and pustulars on the body of work. We all have our particular warts, birthmarks and bunions.

Let's arrive at the viscera and inspect it like a coroner.
I have done a Burke and Hare - a brazen Edinburgh body-snatch - and trotted off with this topic straight from Sonya's blog.
What do you perceive as your greatest strengths as a writer?
What do you think are your major weaknesses?


MissWrite said...

I'll say it again, I just love your blog. You so seriously delve into the nitty-gritty of writing in an effort to become the best, and brightest you can be, and help others along the way. And you do it with such wit and style!

Okay, enough genuflecting. (lol, I meant every word though.)

My greatest strengths--well, especially when it comes to 'the way of the stiletto', it helps that I spend a great deal of time dissecting others work. It makes me stronger in my own. I've always said that even the best writers in the world need an editor. The reason is it is damnably hard to see things you would never except in other writing in your own.

I think critique groups (if they are honest, and full of folks with the best of intentions) help in that way as well. The critiquer learns a whole lot more doing the critiques, than the writer learns from getting it in a lot of cases.

Reading others work and pointing out what doesn't work can give you the 'uh oh' feeling. You know you've seen it before, and you want to go hide under the bed because you know where you've seen it before. HAHAHA

So I feel my work is much stronger because I've learned to spot trouble due to spotting it so often in others.

Even before being an active critiquer, and then editor, I think I had, and have, great characterizations. Each character individualized, and filled out.

It's too early in the morning to think about my own weakness'. I'll have to come back later for that. LOL

MissWrite said...

Ummmm.... except, should have been accept. Glory be, it's too early on a Saturday morning. Yes, that's the reason... uh huh, sure. :)

Bernita said...

Ah, Tami, you are such a lovely person. Thank you.

Truly, any rants here are directed as much at myself as toward the unknown and unseen.
I hide under the bed often.
~actually I go rock back and forth in the corner - but the idea's the same~

I wholeheartedly agree that reading the work of others helps immeasurably in identifying mistakes in one's own.
Also to recognize things that succeed - splendid stuff that makes you go "ooh, now how did they do that!"

I have been told, as I said on Sonya's blog, that I do MINOR characters really well... well, it's a start...

"Accept/except" - it's the internet curse.
After one sees stuff mis-used innumerable times, one's own previously solid grasp on certain items flounders now and then.
Caught myself abusing the pronoun "its" just last week - and I KNOW better, I have always known better - the horror...

Erik Ivan James said...

Strength: Don't think that I've developed one yet that would set me apart.

Weakness: I haven't taken enough time, or interest, yet to learn the "rules". Presently, I just write stuff the way it comes out of my head.

Bernita said...

You do have strengths, Erik.
A clear voice - when you let it speak - an original perspective, a gift of intimacy with the reader - and I'm not talking erotique either.

Jeff said...

These are great questions, Bernita.
I have been told my two strengths in writing are pacing and dialogue.
My weaknesses include description (either too little or too much) and repetitive words.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Jeff.
Those are solid, vital skills.

Find dialogue much easier than I used to, but I still have no idea whether my pacing is any good or not.
Always the question, isn't it? How much is too much? How much is too bones?

S. W. Vaughn said...

Bernita, you're welcome to heist anything you want! :-) It's not stealing, it's inspiration (hee hee).

I love writers who "do minor characters well." I'm always impressed at anyone who can drop in a character and have them fully realized with a few strokes of the pen (or keyboard). It is an incredible feat.

As for my strenghts and weaknesses (which, you many notice, I handily neglected to avoid confessing in my post) -- I have been told my characters are alive and tend to live on in people's heads for a while after they've read the story (it's usually rather forceful hanging about, as "nice" is not a word anyone associates with my characters). So it would seem characterization is up there.

My world-building is not up to snuff. I have trouble creating a character out of place. I also struggle with plot -- I have these cool people, but they have to do something! Generally I subscribe to the Maass theory of generating suspense: think of the worst thing that could happen to your character at the moment, and then come up with something even worse than that, and make it happen. That's hard.

Description is not my strong suit either, as I sometimes forget that I have to let the reader know what's in my head instead of just hoarding the experience for myself.

S. W. Vaughn said...

P.S. Sometimes I also have typos, such as "strenghts." Ironic that it's that word I typed wrong. :-)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think my greatest strength is willingness to change things that are pointed out to me as being weak!

And a co-strength is a desire to learn to write dynamite fiction!

Bernita said...

And one of your comments just now inspired another idea for a post, Sonya...

Constructing a character that lives after the book is closed is a prime time chievement!

So many of us have the opposite problem - we tell the reader much more than he needs or wants to know.

A nice evade, Bonnie, about your fiction - but absolutely admirable qualities in a writer.

Elizabeth said...

My greatest strength: My neurotic nature makes me a FABULOUS self-editor with an eagle eye for clarity, pace, typos, dangling prepositions and (gasp) extraneous adverbs. That is, as long as the story clocks in under 2000 words.

My greatest weakness: Over 2000 words? My editing pen chokes on its own ink, then starts rattling uncontrollably.

Makes novel writing a tad challenging.

Bernita said...

Neurotic? Who's neurotic?
Sounds like perfectly normal revision pattern to me...
~howling to find a "different than" rather than a "different from"...stab, stab, hate it when I do that, HATE it! Idiot! Idiot! ~

Where were we now? Oh, yes...
I take it then that the expanded structure is your bane, Elizabeth?

EA Monroe said...

Hi Bernita. You always come up with thought provoking blogs. My strength -- persistence to keep writing, to keep learning. My greatest weaknesses -- procrastination, goofing off and cutting all that "lovely" prose (ha!) that has to go. I cut and paste it into another document called "extras" and tell myself I will use it in something else. However, by then I've forgotten it and moved on.

Bernita said...

Thank you, EA - but you didn't read - I stole it.

That's a baaad weakness -ya gotta save the shiny bits!

EA Monroe said...

I know you stole it ;-) but you still have posts that make me think about lotsa stuff! And SWVaughn has me typing "strenghts!" I'll have to go into MSWord and type that into my frequently miss-typed words -- like teh for the! I need to print out those shiny bits and keep them in a binder.

kmfrontain said...

Apparently I do minor characters so well that my readers get pissed off when I kill them. ::grumbling -- What? No one ever heard of the Star Trek bull's eye? All minors are subject to destruction.::

My strengths: strong characters, fast pace (usually).

My flaws: not enough description perhaps, and, according to some, too flowery language and saidisms. ::grumbling again -- pfft!::

My solutions: try not to be overgenerous with the fertiliser, or whack them flowers when they get too overwhelming. And put a few saids only in the speech tags...when I think of it. ;-) Also, take all rules with a grain of salt. They need salt. Writing is boring without salt.

Bernita said...

RA, I don't think I've typed a line this week that I haven't had to go back and correct typos...

Off hand, Karen, can't say I noticed any weaknesses - just strengths.

kmfrontain said...

I'm learning. It's something I don't think will every stop, learning to write better. :D In agreement with Misswrite, one learns a lot just from editing other people's work.

As I go, I've notice my style change, and then I've noticed I can slip in and out of one style, dependent on the characters of the story.

Gabriele C. said...

My weakness is procrastination and sometimes over-research.

Else, I can do everything well if I concentrate and take my time to edit and rework. And remember historical novels are not operas.

The dialogue between Niklot and his son Pribislaw which CC#2 ripped, is a good example for opera. I heard like, 'va, figlio mio, va, salvati' - 'mio padre....(imagine the a a nice long one)' with music, not from a specific opera, just something in my head, and look what I got. Dialouges that deal with intrigue are easier, I don't tend to hear mental operas there. Same goes for some plot twists and too noble characters - I had to change Roderic's voice from tenor to baritone in my menatal image, to enable me to see him more realistically.

Bernita said...

No, I don't think it ever stops, Karen.

Gabriele, I know exactly what you mean - that's an excellent analogy!

Kirsten said...

My greatest strength: strong concepts. My greatest weakness: not knowing what my weaknesses are. Argh. Head, meet stone wall.

Lisa Hunter said...

I'm a merciless editor. My former magazine colleagues still call me Miss Scissorhands. I've never met a text that couldn't be improved by cutting half of it. That makes it very, very hard for me to meet my deadlines. I have one set of standards when I'm writing fiction. With non-fiction, if it's due at the printers, I only change libelous or factually inaccuracies.

Bernita said...

There are people who would kill for "strong concepts," Kirsten. Tends to keep the focus tight.
You're yet another that I can't say I noticed weaknesses.
Mine, unfortunately, are too numerous to list.

Lisa, that reminds me of a mendacious definition of a novel as "condensed and unabridged"...means they removed everything but the dirty parts.
I have seen stuff that could have been improved by more material - too skeletal.

M.E Ellis said...

My weakness is using 'ing' words to begin sentences. I bug myself stupid over them.


Bernita said...

Don't know which is worse, Michelle, "ings" or "lys"... the continuation trap... may come from trying to cram too much information into one sentence.

Candice Gilmer said...

Strength -- I think it's my dialog, really, I truly feel comfortable writing what people say.

Weakness -- description. I am not one for long, drawn out descriptive prose, and as such, I tend to write very short descriptions. Which also leads people wondering what the heck I'm talking about.

Bernita said...

Good dialogue is an important skill, Candice.
Scant description is a lot more easily fixed than awkward dialogue.