Jack* is a writer without any education in the craft of writing. He has inspiration, talent, and time, and has composed a strong story. Good plot, good conflict, good resolution. He has written with abandon, unconcerned with who is telling the story and from what point of view, what filters he was unnecessarily adding, whether he was using passive or active voice, cliches, too many adverbs and not enough gesture, etc. He is a writer, after all, he has written an entire novel. 120,000 words!
Too many of my writer friends only wish they could create something so complete, so carefree, without their inner editor voice telling them they are doing it wrong. Trained writers have to unlearn everything they know about “good” writing in order to actually write. Otherwise, they are paralyzed. In order to write a novel length work I’ll have to forget about who should be telling the story and just tell it. That inner editor must be turned off for composition and on for revision.
What Jack ended up with after the first draft and the first several rounds of what he called “proofreading” is absolutely marvelous. And absolutely unpublishable. No agent would go near it.
Enter editor. Time for consultation.
Revision is where skill comes in. One must understand about language and creating emotion and characters who the reader can fear for or love. Anyone trying to get an agent needs an understanding of these basic concepts of the craft of writing.
First, Jack hired me to do an evaluation and critique, at which time I pointed out his excessive use of filters, his inconsistent point of view, his overuse of adverbs rather than gestures, among other things, both negative and also positive. His story line is very compelling, he pulls the reader forward to find out what will happen next, he has created suspense, but the filters, pov shifts, lack of gestures served to distance the reader from the characters. I never worried about anyone. I never felt connected to anyone.
“Would anyone notice that I’m in his head here and her head there?” he asked me. “I mean, a regular reader, not an editor.” A legitimate question, for certain. The answer is emphatically NO. Joan Shmoe who picks up his book at the airport (assuming it could get that far) wouldn’t read it and think gee-this point of view shifts all over the place. However, Joan would realize that she never really felt connected to any one character. She might wonder who the story was about. She might not understand what is significant and what is insignificant to the arc of the story. I don’t intend this to be condescending, but without the language, it is a very difficult concept to grasp and explain.
Enter Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.
I got this book for my first creative writing class at American River College. Professor David Merson and Burroway sent me on my path into the masters degree in creative writing. It contains invaluable basics explained in an easy to understand fashion.
Burroway provides the language that a writer needs to revise.
Today, I turned to the sections on Filtering and Point of View (omniscience, opaque character) to help Jack.