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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Plaid Windows

Image Courtesy of african_fi
What makes a story so compelling that prompts one to spend money on a book?

As a bibliophile, I can't imagine not buying books, but as a writer this is a question I often find myself wondering about. What makes great writing great? I'm not talking about what makes a book popular, but what makes a book well written. There are thousands of rules in writing, but rarely are they iron clad. I do think it's important to know what the rules are, so if they need to be broken, the writer is doing so with deliberation to achieve a certain effect.

For me, the beginning of the answer begins with defining what the writer's job is. Writers have the task of taking something intangible, a story that only they can see, and clothing it in words. But like any suit of apparel, one really shouldn't mix plaid with checkered prints, and I'm all for leaving the animal prints for the animals. The words that a writer chooses to dress their story up in will mean all the difference between whether or not anyone else will be able to see what they see. Because...

Writers make windows to other worlds--even if that other world is completely their own. How well words are used determines how clear and pristine the glass to the story window is. The story itself may be one of the greatest ever told, but if the window is covered with soot, dirt, and splotches of mud, the person trying trying to peer through will have a rather rough time of it. Revising, editing, and rewriting are the Windex for the story window. They help clean it up and make it presentable so the next person with their face pressed against the window pane can see a bit of the wonder that captivated the writer in the first place. The story window is a way of sharing that magic.

I have often found that letting the story sit for a few weeks allows me to see it with new eyes. I experience the wonder of the story all over again, and find those small errors that I missed in the previous round of revising. The ones that are now lit up in flashing neon lights. (An excellent article on revising can be found here.) Beta readers and crit partners are another indispensable tool in getting that window to shine. They point out the water spots, the smudges, and the soot frosting the panes.

Writing well is work. Hard work. But I think all that is balanced out by the wonder and the magic of being the first to peer through that particular story window long enough that it becomes etched in a memory that one day becomes a book.

Danyelle collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers in her spare time. She is currently getting ready to query SLIPPERS OF PEARL, a YA fantasy. She also enjoys making new friends, and can be found at http://myth-takes.blogspot.com.


Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Great post! I do sometimes feel like I'm sitting in a window - and sometimes I'm not sure which side is more real. ;-)

Three cheers for beta readers and crit partners, who keep me grounded.

Julie Wright said...

soot frosting . . . it sounds like the title to a children's book :)

Love the analogy. I have a couple of manuscripts that apparently need a bit more windex and perhaps a squeegee

Elissa Graham said...

Carolyn - I think your statement "Revising, editing and rewriting are the Windex for the story window" has just become my favourite editing quote and I know it will inspire me once I get to the editing stage.

I love your analogy and thanks for the link to the revision article.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Oh my gosh -- I did a bad thing. I posted Danyelle's post without her signature -- so it looks like I wrote it!

As much as I'd love to take credit, I can't -- the writing is Danyelle's.

So you must all (especially Danyelle) accept my apologies for the misleading posting approach.

*dashes off to add Danyelle's sig*!

Anonymous said...

Amen, sista! Writing is hard, but the wonder of it brings me back over and over and over and over. :D