Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WRITERS—TURN WEAKNESSES INTO STRENGTHS


Today, I'm featuring some words of wisdom from a friend of mine, Beth Hill. You've read other contributions from Beth both on craft and some of her short stories. 
Beth is a fiction editor and an excellent story content editor. I've benefited from her knowledge and I've always appreciated her easy to understand advice. In today's topic she reminds us of the importance of not only identifying one's weaknesses, as a writer, our strengths. Be sure to check out other timely articles on craft at The Editor's Blog  


Writers have personal strengths and weaknesses. What one writer nails every time, another might struggle with again and again.
Writers have two options for producing better works based on their knowledge of strengths and weaknesses. They can either play to their strengths, featuring the skills they do well as they craft entertaining stories. Or they can turn their weaknesses to strengths by working on those weaknesses, whittling away at them until each time they write, they nail that issue that used to give them fits.
Perfecting a skill may take a while. It may take a long while. And it may not be fun, that repetition and practice and boring effort. But the focus on eliminating a weakness and making it not only a neutral element—something that won’t work against the writer—but a strength—something that actually works for the writer—will serve those writers for years. Why limit yourself to a few skills you’re comfortable with and know you manipulate well when you can also learn new skills and better position yourself to meet new writing challenges?
Identifying your weaknesses
Don’t know your weaknesses? Pay attention to critiques, especially when several readers comment on the same element.
If your dialogue doesn't work, you’ll hear about it if you’re letting others read your work.
If failure to plot tightly is your weakness, spend time learning how to plot.
Learn more than the basics. Stretch yourself.
Learn the importance of character arcs. Learn how to weed out clich├ęs. Learn how to make use of setting, how it affects characters and tone and pacing. Face up to your limitations rather than hiding them.
Learn and practice and overcome your personal weaknesses one by one.
Any combination of writer strengths and weaknesses can be worked and finessed to produce an entertaining book, but weaknesses can overburden a story. And they can tax a writer so much that he doesn't develop a story the way he should. Most of us don’t want to spend time on difficult tasks that promise little pleasure or minimal reward for the effort.

A writer doesn't start out as an expert in every skill.
A partial list of elements a writer can be weak in or excel at—
plotting
characterization
chapter-ending hooks
dialogue
description
conflict
word choices
pacing
sentence construction
resolution
foreshadowing
Can you say that you’re an expert at each? What about the skills I didn't mention? Are you as equally skilled at every task required for writers to produce entertaining and engaging stories?
If not, why not work on one of your weaknesses, actually follow a plan to improve your writing? Why not become skilled at just one writing element that gives you fits? (And after that, take on a second element that needs work. But I don’t want to overwhelm you. One skill at a time works just fine.)
Books and the Internet and writing groups are wonderful resources. Tap into them. Make use of available tools to perfect your skills. Turn weaknesses to strengths.
Don’t settle for being a writer; strive to be a better writer. Better than you were last year. Better than you imagined being. Better than just good enough.

                                                                                                                                               
Freelance fiction editor Beth Hill.
I love the written word, the ability we have to create worlds and emotions with well-chosen phrases. It’s my intention to share tips and insights and encouragement with writers at all levels, to help you craft stories that will entertain and satisfy your readers. That will help satisfy you as writer as well.
I am both writer and editor. My editing focus is on long fiction, primarily novels. I also mentor beginning writers. My editing service is A Novel Edit.

Monday, March 4, 2013

MONDAY MUSINGS: WE INTERRUPT SPRING...




One of the things I love about living in southwesten part of Missouri is the fact that winters are usually short. Most of the snow we get starts late December through mid February. The week of Valentine's Day, in a normal year, we've been known to get a few substantial snowstorms. Mind you, I don't particularly like having to break ice for the animals or tote water, but I can live with it. 

Ask anyone and you'll hear that the weather has been caddywumpus the past few years. Last year we barely got any cold weather and not much more than a dusting of snow and my tulips and daffodils were budding by this time. This year, however, we've had many of the big storms (10 plus inches) passed us by—either tracking a bit north or south of us.  We've not escaped the snow and have gotten 3 or 4 inches, which is usually gone in 36 hours. Valentine Day came with a dusting. Whew!

Well, I breathed too soon. Two days later we got hit with thunder sleet. That's when the weather starts out warm with rain and temps drop dramatically and you end up with icy sleet. Thunder and lightning with, not rain, sleet pebbles. Very strange to hear thunder rumbling across the sky and snow and sleet falling. They closed down the Fort except for keen and essential personnel and the kid missed work too. Hubs has had 4 snow days in the past two weeks. Driving out here, on rarely plowed country roads, is hazardous. 

When it was all done we had probably 3 inches of white on the ground. Nothing fluffy about this white stuff. It promptly froze into solid sheets of ice. You know its ice, and not snow, when you see a 1200 lb horse gingerly walk across it without breaking through and UPS drives up your driveway and slides to your patio—without breaking through the stuff. You should have seen him trying to go out my drive. I thought for sure he was going to keep right on going and end up in the middle of the pasture across road.  I was envisioning either an over turned truck or one of those huge tow trucks having to pull him out of the field. He merely slid; nose first, into the bank. He got real cozy with the shrubs but managed to stay upright and with some careful maneuvering, to slip-sliding his way down the road. Yeah, I was hearing echoes of Paul Simon. It was a real Kodachrome moment. J

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I watched fresh snow falling while I worked. The sheets of ice were almost gone but ended up with a few inches of wet snow on top. In the past two weeks we've had about 3 or 4 days without snowfall. It could be worse. Forty minutes north they got 19 inches of snow.

 

Cardinals watching  the cats below
The poor Robins, who arrived just recently, were confused. I don’t think they got the memo that spring has been delayed by snow. Feeders have had tons of birds and more than usual. Of course nothing starves at Sia’s house. I've had suet bars for all the feeders and my usual peanut butter bark for the woodpeckers. I buy cheap peanut butter and stir in sunflower seeds and smear it in the bark crevices of the huge oak tree out front. 

Blue Jays thru the window
The Blue Jays and Woodpeckers argue loudly over territory and the yummy peanut butter. The birds love the snacks and my cats love watching the show perched on the window sills within the warm house.

Today,  all the snow is gone (except for some ice piles), but we’re expecting more tonight. I think spring will be delayed a few more weeks with all this white stuff and the deep-freeze temps.

I’m so ready for spring and flowers.

Last year's apple blossoms.