It was my turn to read at our writers’ group last Wednesday. Sometimes, I polish and edit to take in something that’s in really good shape. It’s fun to see everyone nod their heads and tell me I’ve written a good scene. But sometimes, I take in something that I’ve worked on, but I know isn’t quite right, because Scribes is wonderful about picking out the flaws that I’m too close to see. Last Wednesday, I took an opening that I’d been fighting with and rewriting until I knew I was close, but I also knew I wasn’t there. And the truth is, I’d played with it so much, I couldn’t tell if I was making it worse or better.
I wanted to open the novella with a bang–a surprise attack by a friend who apologizes before he tries to kill Ally and Dante. They don’t know why he’s attacking them, and he can’t tell them. They don’t want to hurt him, but they don’t know what’s going on. When I finished reading, three-fourths of my writing buddies didn’t know what was going on either. Bless Neil, he said, “I was listening and enjoying every bit of it, but when you got done, I realized I didn’t really know exactly what was happening.” He wasn’t the only one. Once I listened to their comments, though, I realized that the fixes I needed weren’t big. I’d been working so hard on big things–creating characters, the dialogue, and action–that I didn’t fine tune the small stuff. Some of it simply came down to word choice. And as my friend, Paula, said, “It doesn’t need an overhaul, just brush strokes.”
I can give you an example. Dante’s friend who attacks them is a werewolf. When I wanted to show that he was losing control, I said Foam bubbled from his mouth. “Too nice,” Sia said. “Use something moodier like Foam slathered from his mouth.” A “nice” word in a frenetic scene throws off the feel. Word choice is important. So is upping the ante, to make each action more vivid. Instead of having him break his nose when he hits Ally’s shield, “have his skull split,” Sia said. “It’s more vivid. This is a roller coaster opening. Make it feel like one.”
Maybe my best advice? Paula said, “Each person’s motivation is in your head, but it’s not always on the paper. Hint at it or put it there.” All it took was a sentence here, a few words there. The characters and scene worked. They just needed tweaked. And sometimes, I need “outside” opinions to know what to focus on.
So, I hope each one of you has at least two readers you can trust to critique your writing or a writers’ group like mine. Someone who can tell you if your writing has clarity. Can a reader follow it, or is it confusing? Are the characters’ motivations clear for each and every thing they say or do? What did you do right? And what can you make better?
And remember that sometimes, it’s the small things that need fine-tuned.
P.S. My fourth Emerald Hills novella went online last week. No werewolves in this one. Only shoes and magic. http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/
4 thoughts on “Writing: Word Choice, Brush Strokes, & Clarity”
Funny I was just drafting a blog post about something very similar. I just read a book I loved the idea but the execution just needed exactly that, brush strokes, better word choice would have taken it from a three star to a five! Great insight as always Judith x
I wish I could have figured it out on my own, but sometimes I’m just too close to my writing. A lot of times, the more I love it, the worse it is:) Glad my friends are VERY honest.
Good advice is priceless. Your friends are amazing. With or without the bubbling foam, I am sure your werewolf will fascinate your readers…Good luck magical Judith :)>
Thanks, Petronela! Your novella comes out soon, doesn’t it? In November?