Tweaking… and tweaking… and tweaking…

     It’s just not right. You think you’re done with a story. You’re proud. You’ve accomplished something. Then you go back to bask in your achievement.

     Only, you realize it needs something.

     So you tweak.

     Then you move a paragraph.

     Then you change the storyline.

     Next thing you know, you’re in a full re-write.

     I must admit, this is rather foreign territory to me. In news, the explanatory copy and sound bites/quotes have a general sensical order, to be expressed clearly and in few words. Even if I had hour after hour to rewrite, which I don’t, the order of events doesn’t change drastically. What happened, happened in a certain way. I can change how I approach or back into the story, but getting too creative in the mere minutes that I have to tell a story can hamper understanding.

     Writing fiction, though, isn’t at all like that. The story’s yours, obviously, so you can order events however you’d like.

     And you do.

     Ad nauseum.

     I’m finding that when I have no deadline, I keep going back and “tweaking” a story, and I wonder if I’ll ever be happy with it.

     Do you walk away? Do you say “good enough is good enough?” Or do you keep tweaking because you have no deadline? In the end, the goal is the best piece of writing you are capable of producing. The problem is, that line keeps moving as your writing experience evolves.

Free Flowing

     Why is it that adult writers have such a hard time letting go of details? Why do we slow down the free flow of ideas — even in a first draft — to get bogged down trying to find just that perfect word?

     I was so pleased watching my daughter write a story this evening. After fifteen minutes of hearing the scratch of pencil on paper, I saw her walk up to me, notebook in hand, to get my take on her story. She was quick to say it was a first draft, unfinished, grammar not taken in account, etc. I suppose she expected me to start correcting misspellings.

     I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. How wonderful to see her write! How liberating to see her just go with it!

     Sure, young children generally have neither the grammar skills nor the vocabulary to write flawless works with words concise enough to match every nuance. That doesn’t make their effort and especially the “imperfect” execution less wonderful. In fact, many of us adult writers could learn from their example. We could just write and worry about the fixes later. No need to sink into that quicksand of “correction.”

Decisions, Decisions…

     I’m working on my next book now. It’s a language-focused picture book. Doesn’t sound cute, but it is. The trouble is, I’m writing two versions and can’t decide which I’m liking better. One is simple prose. The other is written in rhyme. I’m hoping that by the time I’m done, one will stand out as the clear favorite, because, as it stands now, I’m pulled two ways.

     When I was a child, I loved reading verse. I adored the rhythm of the read, and the more I read, the more I remembered, to the point that I could eventually recite the whole poem or story without referring to the page.

     On the other hand, prose feels less stifling to me. I feel better able to express myself, within the same space, because I’m not forcing words to fit a particular rhythm.

     This book, apparently, really wants itself written. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be demanding it twice.

Accentuate Accents

     I love writing accents. Giving a character a voice that really fits him is so satisfying — and fun.

     And there are many different accents. There are the national accents, the regional dialects, the local twangs, the tradesmen’s lingo. There are variances through education and age. Real people even “tweak their speak” on a whim, favoring whatever suits their fancy, depending on the situation.

     An accent greatly inspirits a character. We’ve all read books whose characters’ voices were unique. So how to make that happen? Listening and repeating in my head works well enough for me. The problem comes in putting it on paper in such a way that English grammar doesn’t alter the pronunciation.

     I’ve written several characters possessing voices so distinct that they almost speak their parts before I can write them. They leave me trailing behind them, transcribing as fast as I’m able. It’s sublime when that happens.

Vexing Vocabulary

     My daughter recently approached me, a novel in hand, asking what a certain phrase meant. Had the problem involved only a single word, I’d have encouraged her to look it up in the dictionary. We would then have discussed the meaning of the word, making sure she understood it both standing alone and in the context of the sentence.

     In this case, however, she understood the words, but not the phrase comprised of them. I explained said phrase. After a moment’s pause, she turned to face me and said that writers shouldn’t put words in books that kids can’t understand.

     Well, you can imagine what a discussion that started!

     I asked my daughter how she would have become as intelligent as she is had she never come across nor investigated new phrases? I do not believe that writers should abandon a rigorous vocabulary simply because they are writing to children, and I told her as much. Kids are not so delicate as to require familiar words and phrases day in and day out. As a child, I loved coming across new words. It was like meeting a stranger, who then became a friend, who then became a part of my life. I would try to make my new friend part of my lexicon.

     Longer books without higher vocabulary? As a writer, that makes for awfully nondescript writing. As a child, it makes for overly-simple reading.

     I’m willing to bet that within a week, she’ll use that new phrase … and smile while she’s doing it.

Enliven Your Verbs

     Years ago, in journalism school, we students were taught to choose our verbs with great care. Verbs, we were assured, were to express action, but not nuance. For example, we were not to write, “Politician Paul claims to be working on the problem,” or “Politican Paul professes to be working on the problem.” Instead, we were to write, “Politican Paul said he was working on the problem.” The idea behind the less expressive verb was to show the action being taken, but not allow the broadcast or publication of any perceived or actual writer bias.

     The rules have since changed, for a host of reasons, including, I suspect, a desire to give the audience more of a sense of what’s really happening. The journalist with twenty years experience in the market, who knows he’s being snowballed by someone, doesn’t want to become that person’s mouthpiece by reporting action without context.

     It’s also a simple matter of writing more interesting copy. Ninety said’s in one newscast is pretty dull, indeed.

     I was trained to be unexpressive in verb choice and still, generally, use neutral verbs in my news copy. Writing fiction, however, is a whole other matter, and we writers can and should break free from the bondage of boring verbs and pen / scribble / jot / scratch / type verbs that are exact and lively. Like that?

     Great writing comprises great verbs, we know. The verbs should mesmerize us; possess us to feel the emotion and see the imagery that the author exudes. So when creating the story, get yourself a great thesaurus and simply go crazy. Watch your writing burst to life before your eyes. I did.

Copyright © Silvia Acevedo. All rights reserved.